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Co-op Wine At Your Co-op


Natural Times, March/April/May 2017

Extending back through four generations, to the 1940s, La Riojana is one of the largest cooperative wineries in Argentina. Many of the original wine growers in this cooperative were immigrants from Italy to Argentina.

La Riojana started out as a small bodega, buying in grapes to turn to wine. They slowly grew as different families made La Riojana province of Argentina their home. These families started planting their own vines, with hundreds of families following in their footsteps. Working together and sharing their grapes, these families built what has become the La Riojana cooperative known today.

The success of the La Riojana cooperative lies in the fact every one of their members is as important as the other, regardless of size or how long they have been part of the winery. Every member and every grower gets an equal vote in deciding what key steps and decisions the cooperative takes. Many of their 500 plus growers can trace their families back through four generations of working as part of the La Riojana cooperative.

Each grower that makes up the La Riojana family has its own unique story to tell. But the majority, up to 80%, are small growers owning no more than three hectares of land (approximately seven acres). La Riojana cooperative has a workforce of over 250 people, the vast majority of whom work at La Riojana’s main winery in Chilecito and live either in Chilecito itself or in villages nearby. La Riojana has a total planted area of 4,215 hectares, divided into seven wineries with six located in the La Rioja province and one in Tupungato, Mendoza. Their combined production capacity is an estimated 52 million liters of wine, which represents processing capabilities of about 60 million kilos of grapes per year—an estimated annual production of 4.7 million cases.

The Famatina Valley is nothing short of a viticultural paradise, ideal for growing grapes capable of thriving in what can be harsh conditions with summer temperatures topping 45 degrees Celcius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and rainfall of only 180 mm (4.6 inches) per year. The grapes enjoy both the benefit of brilliant sunshine during long hot days and then the comfort of cold nights. This is the ideal combination for growing superb healthy fruit, bringing depth and colour to the red wines and aroma and flavor to the whites.

The hot, sunny conditions are also ideal for organic wine growing vital to La Riojana’s winemaking philosophy as it means fewer insects, and pests that can affect the grape. Sheep are also used in the vineyards to keep on top of vegetation and any pests. Plus, their manure helps fertilize the vines. What’s more, the Famatina valley is surrounded by the Andes, Famatina and El Velazco mountains, which run northwest to south east, providing good ventilation and protection for the vines.

Being a member of the cooperative provides growers with benefits and services, including the guaranteed purchase of grapes at higher-than-market prices, transportation of grapes from the vineyard to the cooperative, free technical assistance, group purchasing of supplies to keep costs down, collective frost insurance, and access to an emergency fund. Since 2006, the wines have been certified fair trade. In addition to fair prices, the growers benefit from a premium received from the sale of La Riojana wines that is used for social and economic development projects in the community. Projects completed so far include a new secondary school and water infrastructure in the remote village of Tilimuqui; computer rooms, equipment, and free IT courses; back-to-school kits for the children and grandchildren of members and workers; solar power in villages; and medical equipment and medicines to local first aid centers. Current projects include a hospital and organic certification for farms.

To date, La Riojana Co-op has invested over $11 million Argentinian pesos of Fair Trade premiums in over 30 projects to benefit their members, workers, and local communities.

The key focus of their Fair-Trade projects has been split between:

  • Education (43%)
  • Local community improvements (18%)
  • Production improvements (16%)
  • Healthcare (12%)

  • Socio-economic improvements (7%)
  • Administration & training (4%)

Although the vineyards are not certified yet, they are farmed organically, and the cooperative is committed to sustainability and works to promote sustainable practices within the winery and vineyards and with growers. They’ve had a carbon footprint audit and are working to be carbon neutral.

“Our Fairtrade certification is very important to us primarily because the principles followed by Fairtrade are similar to those followed by our cooperative. The certification has enables us to achieve social goals, which have greatly benefitted the community, our workers and members. The fact that we are Fairtrade and we have good quality wines has also allowed us to win over new markets and therefore increase in our exports,” says Mario Gonzalez, president, La Riojana cooperative.


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