A ladle of ... Wine from La Rioja

New trends are always shaking up the industry – we track them down. In our series ‘A ladle of …’, we regularly present fascinating projects and personalities from the food and hospitality sector. In today’s 3-question interview, we speak with Abel Torres, managing director of the Spanish winegrowers’ cooperative Viñedos de Aldeanueva.

What are the strengths of your cooperative and how do the winegrowers benefit?

The basic idea is to pool our resources and to be a bigger actor on the market. We have more than 900 winegrowers in Aldeanueva de Ebro who operate as one big enterprise. What’s more: since we handle nearly all the work steps here, practically all of the profit remains in the town. That helps everyone here achieve prosperity and a higher quality of life. Around 2,000 people live here, and they all benefit directly or indirectly from viticulture.
Every wine-producing locality in the province of La Rioja has a cooperative; there are probably around 35 in all. Viñedos de Aldeanueva is the largest and most commercially successful. This is to do in part with the fact that, while many others collectively press, age and market their wine, they don’t bottle it themselves. This advantage means that we can pay our growers more for their grapes. 

Abel Torres

How is such a cooperative structured?

Like any large company, we manage our cooperative with professional teams who know their areas of the business well: viticulture and technology, sales and marketing, administration and management. This allocation of responsibility is also reflected in the management team. Alongside me as the executive director, there are directors of finance, technology, national sales and export. We have around 50 staff who are employed by the cooperative year-round. This number doubles to around 100 during the wine harvest. In addition to personal communication with the winegrowers, we also rely on digital tools. We’ve developed our own app that sends our members important information via push notifications. The app contains weather forecasts that are important for wine growing. And the growers can also use it to check the queues at our quality control point so they can avoid unnecessary waiting time. That’s been very well received. Especially among older members, interestingly enough – after some initial scepticism – because it’s so easy to navigate.

How do you ensure that each winegrower contributes positively to the quality of the wine?

The foundation for the ultimate quality of the bottled wines is laid during cultivation, which is why we employ a viticulturist. He advises our growers across the whole range of issues: which grapes are suitable for which location, and questions about the care and ripening of the grapes – which is really the most essential thing. Not every cooperative makes the investment of having an expert like that on hand throughout the year. He knows every grower and every vineyard, and he can assess every wine harvest.
The secret of good wine is to pay the growers according to quality. Otherwise, they concentrate on producing larger quantities. But because our growers know that quality pays, they focus on that from the very beginning of the season. We have our own lab and test the harvest when the growers drive up with their trailers. We pay based on four criteria: alcohol content, colour, ripeness and general health of the grapes. Overall we determine a total of 30 values, such as the acidity, potassium content and fermentation activity. Winegrowers come from all over Spain to look at our system. Each year we have representatives from three or four companies as guests here. Our payment system is the most advanced in the whole country.

About Viñedos de Aldeanueva

The cooperative Viñedos de Aldeanueva has represented the interests of the winegrowers around the town of Aldeanueva de Ebro since 1956. With 900 growers and a total cultivated area of more than 3,100 hectares, it is the largest of around 35 winegrowing cooperatives in the La Rioja region today. The cooperative itself bottles around 80% of the 20 million litres of red wine and 2 million litres of white wine produced annually.

METRO purchases more than 1 million bottles each year from Viñedos de Aldeanueva, including 424,000 bottles of the own brand ‘Pueblo Viejo’ alone. The conventionally grown wines are sold in 14 countries in addition to Spain, and the organic wines are marketed in 5 or 6 countries outside Spain. The cooperative has been a METRO partner for 15 years.

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