Monday, 11 January 2016

The Cooperative Sherry Producers

Most wine producing regions have cooperatives; they are necessary and life would be more difficult without them. They consist of many small grape growers, some with tiny plots, who band together to protect their interests and pool resources. There are seven Coops in the Marco de Jerez and between them they produce nearly half of all the grapes, the vast bulk of which are sold in the form of must to the shipping bodegas or almacenistas, many of whom either possess little vineyard or none at all.

Life is not easy for the small producers who are paid very little for their grapes (Sherry grapes are the second cheapest in Spain) and can’t always sell them all. As sales of Sherry continue to decline the bodegas just buy less and the growers are left with unsold wine, currently some 10,000 butts! The Coops have found it necessary to sell their own brands of wine or other products, such as vinegar, in an attempt to reduce excess stocks. They are also up against bodegas taking too long to pay or buying musts at the last minute after the Coop has been forced to reduce the price to make much needed space for the next harvest.

So spare a thought for the growers and their Cooperatives, unsung heroes of Sherry. They are:

Jerez: Nuestra Señora de las Angustias (also known as Covijerez) was established in 1967 and counts 200 members controlling 1,000 hectares of vineyard. Their installations, located in the Circunvalacion (ring road), consist of an ageing bodega with 5,800 butts of Fino Amontillado and Oloroso sold under the Romerito brand, a fermentation bodega lined with stainless steel tanks with capacity for 13.4 million litres and two further buildings, one housing the wine presses, and the other for storage. In 2013, 11 million kilos of grapes were pressed here. (See separate post)

Sanlúcar: Covisan (Cooperativa Vitivinicola Sanluqueña) located on the Carretera Sanlucar-Jerez, km 1.3 was established in 1968 and has 160 members with 350 hectares of vineyard. In 2013 they pressed close to 5 million kilos and the bodega contains 1,450 butts. Some 60 % of their production is bought by La Guita, and they also market their own Manzanilla, Cream, PX and a white table wine under the brand name Covisan.

Sanlúcar: Caydsa (Cooperativa  del Campo Virgen de la Caridad) The bodega itself was established in 1803 and owned during the latter half of the XIX century by Italian emigré Francesco Bozzano. It later passed to the company Criadores, Almacenistas y Distribuidores de Vinos de Jerez SA (Caydsa), then in 1980 to the cooperative which was established in 1959. There are 700 members with 800 hectares of vineyard providing 7.5 million kilos. The coop sold the bodega in 2009 to Nueva Rumasa who re-named it Teresa Rivero, but never handed over all the money, resulting in a lengthy and complicated court case which the coop finally won in 2012. The Coop makes a decent Manzanilla called Bajo de Guia.

Chiclana: Unión de Viticultores Chiclaneros. The coop movement in Chiclana goes back to 1884, but has seen many changes over the years. The current bodega was established in 2000 at Calle de la Madera, 5 and consists of 6,000 m2 divided into 11 buildings. There are 170 members with 215 hectares who produce an average of 2 million litres. The bodega has a few of its own brands which are: Fino Chiclanero, Fino Salinas, Oloroso Matadero, Moscatel Matías Serrano and Cream Sarmiento Padre Salado. They also produce vinegar.

Chipiona: Bodega Cooperativa Católica Agricola is located on the Carretera Sanlucar-Chipiona in Chipiona and was founded in 1922. They have a bodega de fermentación “Los Madroñales” which can produce 1.6 million litres of must in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The other bodega “Avenida de Regla” is for ageing wine, all 1.500 butts of it, stabilising and bottling it. This bodega also houses the Museum of Moscatel. Their range of wines is called Los Madroñales, and consists of a Fino, three Moscateles, a decent red and white wine and a consecration wine.

Trebujena: Cooperativa Agrícola Virgen de Palomares was founded in 1957 and has about 700 members with about 710 hectares of vineyard between Trebujena and Lebrija. Of the 8 million kilos of grapes pressed here annually, some 6.5 million litres of must are produced which will fill 13,000 butts. As well as selling musts in bulk to the shipping bodegas and producing vinegar, they also bottle small quantities of their own Fino, Oloroso, Dulce Natural and Cream under the brand name name “Trebujena”.

Trebujena: Cooperativa Vitivinícola Albarizas (also known locally as la Otra or the other Coop) was founded in 1977 by 220 growers with some 710 hectares of vineyard mainly because the other coop, Virgen de Palomares had insufficient capacity. They crush some 3 million kilos from which some 2.1 million litres of must are produced. Their biggest client is Williams & Humbert which buys about half their production.

A word or two should be said about the “cooperative of cooperatives”: Aecovi, the only grade 2 coop in Cádiz. It was established in 1989 consisting of and representing the interests of 4 cooperativas vitivinícolas or wine growing and producing cooperatives: Nuestra Señora de las Angustias in Jerez, Covisan in Sanlúcar, Unión de Viticultores Chiclaneros in Chiclana and Bodega Cooperativa Católica Agrícola in Chipiona.

Aecovi had 1200 members representing over 45% of the Jerez growers and some 2,000 hectares, being 20% of the total vineyard land in Cadiz. Aecovi was responsible, in the name of its member coops, for sectorial agreements along with Fedejerez, Asaja and Coag.

 It was also president of the vitivinícola sector of the Federación Andaluza de Empresas Cooperativas Agrarias (FAECA) via its president Carmen Romero García who also had a seat on the Consejo Regulador in that capacity. Aecovi Jerez also had the vice presidential seat on the Consejo in the person of Francisco Lorenzo Gallegos.

The Coop participated assiduously in the restructuring and reconversion of vineyards having presented 12 plans for it since 2000. The reconversion of 1500ha (656 growers) was financed at a cost of 10 million Euros. For promotion abroad Aecovi received 745,000 Euros for 2011/12.

In 2008, Aecovi decided to market its own brands and not merely sell in bulk to bodegas. Since then, they produced 4 ranges of good Sherry under the brand names Alejandro, Santiago, Alfaraz and Mira la Mar as well a establishing an organic Sherry project. They also marketed a red and white table wine as well as syrups, sauces and vinegars. Unfortunately and despite the quality and innovative nature of their products, Aecovi succumbed to the crisis and was declared insolvent in March 2015. The member cooperatives themselves were not insolvent and are still very much in production, though they are out of pocket.

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