Chile Gets "Mega" Wine Cooperative

Chile's Itata Valley is about to become home to a huge wine cooperative.
© Getty Images | Chile's Itata Valley is about to become home to a huge wine cooperative.
It's been another fast-moving week for wine news. Our round-up will help you catch up.
By Oliver Styles | Posted Sunday, 12-Sep-2021

Lots of news you might have already seen this week, including the sale of St-Estèphe Fourth Growth Lafon-Rochet to construction mogul Jacky Lorenzetti; a hail scare in central France and Burgundy midweek; and the announcement that Champagne had won its EU court case against the "Champanillo" chain of tapas bars in Spain (covered by us in May).

In other news, there was a fair bit of coverage for a Greek winery that is aging some of its wines in a river (sigh), while Bordeaux is apparently eyeing the installation of a cable car to cross the Garonne between the Cité du Vin and, well, the opposite bank (not, sadly, Saint-Emilion).

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The Central Loire grouping (which includes the likes of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume and Menetou-Salon) unveiled a rebrand, while French wine publication La Revue du Vin de France announced that Florence Rogers-Pinault, who headed up marketing at Château Latour, and was the stepdaughter of Latour owner, Fran?ois Pinault, had died aged 58.

But here are some of the headlines you might have missed in the last seven days:

Chile's Itata Valley to boast mega-cooperative

Chile's southern Itata Valley wine region is set to get a boost in the future as the country's Institute of Agricultural Development (INDAP) announced a public-private initiative with forestry company Arauco to establish a 500,000-liter winemaking cooperative in the region.

Arauco's Hacienda Cucha Cucha facility, in the heart of the region (35km (21 miles) west of the city of Chillán) on the nothern bank of the ?uble river, close to its confluence with the Itata, is slated to host 134 small winegrowers and winemaking groups in the ?uble area. The so-called "mega-cooperative" will run under the title of Cooperativa Agrícola Vitivinícola Vinos del Valle del Itata (the Agricultural Winegrowing Cooperative of Itata Valley Wines), an enterprise that was created back in January of this year.

The Itata Valley itself  is known for its original old-vine plantings of Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria), País (Mission) and Cinsaut, often worked by smallholders and farmers. It was one of the first areas to be planted with grapevines in the country (reportedly not long after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors) and, according to Arauco, the valley boasts around 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) of vineyard between 5,500 smallholders.

According to INDAP's national director, Carlos Recondo, the project would "allow the development of small-scale viticulture in the Itata Valley. Let's hope this [project] will be an example for other regions in our country and that it will be a means for the Itata Valley to develop with more strength."

"The main thing in this agreement is the winemaking," said the head of the new cooperative, Marlene González. "We have known for a long time that selling grapes is not a profitable enterprise; where you can get better value is by making the wine. That is the focus of this mega-cooperative.

Virginia Peninsula AVA established

Virginia celebrated the inauguration of its ninth AVA it emerged this week, with the Virginia Peninsula AVA set to become official on September 24. The new AVA covers land in four counties to the west as well as the cities of Poquoson, Hampton, Newport News and Williamsburg at the very southeastern end of the eponymous peninsula (which lies just east of state capital Richmond).

As such, the AVA lies roughly 100 miles (160km) southeast of the main Virginia wine regions such as Monticello or the Shenandoah Valley, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Over the Hampton Roads to the northeast lies the coastal Virginia's Eastern Shore AVA (also a peninsula) while to the north (one peninsula over) is the fanastically named Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace.

According to the petition for the AVA, published on the US Federal Register via the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the region "is characterized by a humid subtropical climate, with long, humid summers and moderate to mild winters". Furthermore, the Atlantic Coastal Plain – a geographical area in which the Virginia Peninsula is situated is "underlain by Cenozoic-era sand, mud, and gravel that were deposited during periods of higher sea levels".

The AVA currently boasts five wineries and commercial vineyards covering 112 acres (45 hectares).

Virgina Peninsula joins the aforementioned AVAs as well as Middleburg, North Fork of Roanoke, Rocky Knob and the Appalachian High Country denominations in the state. It is the US's 285th AVA.

Spanish exports exceed pre-Covid levels

Good news out of Spain this week as the country's wine market observer (the OEMV) announced that the country's wine exports have overtaken pre-Covid pandemic levels in both volume and value. Prior to January 2020, the European country's wine exports were valued at €2.6 billion and stood at just over two billion liters. 

Both measures had been falling prior to the pandemic (value has been on a steady decline since its peak at just under €3bn in August 2018 and volume levels had been dropping since the last quarter of 2019) – and continued to do so for another nine months as the initial Covid-19 outbreak ravaged the globe. However, growth took off again in late 2020/early 2021 and has since surpassed January 2020 levels.

In value terms, exports are back to mid-2019 levels while volumes have overtaken the previous spike in late 2019 and are back to early 2018 levels. However the latter has some way to go before it matches the 2.4bn liters exported in November 2015 – the highest registered production of the last ten years.

Some of this may have to do with the OEMV saying the UK, one of the major importers, had been "stockpiling" Spanish bulk wine through 2020 in the wake of Brexit. While UK imports have since dropped in the first half of 2021, Spain remained well-positioned in the UK, mainly due to sparkling wine sales.

Further figures showed that while France maintained an impressive segment of UK imports, many countries had seen significant drops in exports to the British Isles. Wines from the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Chile all saw their wine imports drop in both volume and value.

Spain's domestic market reports centered on the effects of the Covid pandemic on wine sales in 2020. Figures show that, unsurprisingly, supermarkets overtook the on-trade as the country's leading wine outlet in 2020, with the on-trade shrinking from accounting for half of all domestic wine sales in 2019 to only a third in 2020.

In terms of volume, the effects were similar. Indeed, direct wine sales jumped from five to eight percent and online sales doubled (albeit from one to two percent). Nonetheless, 82 percent of Spanish wineries asked said that online wine sales would become more important in the future while over three quarters said that online channels represented the best opportunities for growth in wine sales.

Oregon wine company pairs with comic book publishers

Beaverton-based Oregon wine bar Syndicate Wine has teamed up with a comic book and graphic novel publishers TidalWave Productions to jazz-up Syndicate's house wine labels. Cue a series of comic-book hero wines released to the public last week, featuring two superheroes for each offering, sometimes giving pause to wonder which is the more appropriate.

For the Syndicate Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, for instance, should we lean more towards the fuchsia-toned female hero on the left (TidalWave's flagship character, the "10th Muse") or the masked, cloaked figure – a villian? – in grey and mustard on the right?

Insiders will know that it is – unsurprisingly, to the ungenerous – the latter as the 10th Muse also appears on every other label. Nonetheless, the move is not without its positives.

"After the past year (and more) of unprecedented events, we all need superheroes in our lives…" said TidalWave, in a release. "And so do the grapes! The wine industry was especially hard hit in 2020, with wildfires impacting an already difficult year."

"We welcome the public to join us in celebration of these new wines," added the publisher, "and the greater story they represent of perseverance and endurance against all odds."

According to TidalWave, which operates out of Portland, the label characters will be part of an upcoming series of comic books. The wines are currently on sale for between US$27 and $72 and cover a Chardonnay, Syrah, Rosé and the aforementioned Pinot Gris.

TidalWave made national headlines in 2018 after releasing the book "Political Power: Stormy Daniels" profiling former adult actor Stormy Daniels, whose past affair with former president Donald Trump in 2006 had just been exposed.

La Mancha launches Cervantes-inspired ad

Fans of wine and cheese pairings will be regaled by the denoument of the television ad spot launched by Spanish wine region La Mancha earlier this month. Leaning heavily on a number of Cervantes motifs (the author's Don Quixote novel was primarily set in the region), the advert follows the quest of a young woman looking, for reasons unknown, for Dulcinea, Cervantes' female protagonist.

After much wandering around sun-baked vineyards and the old stone-walled towns of La Mancha, she finally accosts a young man stretching out the canvas on an ancient windmill. Descending from his task in immaculate espadrilles and a loosely-tied, blousy white shirt, actor Alexander Calvo (a model and flight attendant), with a flick of his hair informs our questing maiden that she is, in fact, Dulcinea.

The pair proceed to crack open a cheeky bottle of La Mancha red – presumably a local Cencibel? – and, with a sunset toast, look longingly into each other's eyes. And why not.

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