New World winemaking has the romance of rugged individualism. With properties bankrolled by previous enterprises such as construction or tobacco, winery owners can break rules, (even with scant rules to break), creating new styles (such as White Zinfandel), new packaging (the screw-top) and campaigns to reach new markets (California now exports 20 percent of its wine production, according to the Wine Institute.)
But in the Old World, where small family farms have supported ever-growing families for generations, life as an individual can prove too rugged. With wine law firm but expenses rising, small properties have little opportunity to reach new customers and individualism can put a family one bad vintage away from ruin.
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte
• Suggested retail and availability: About $45 at wine and liquor shops (distributed by Southern Wine & Spirits, Bolingbrook)
Rich but still enlivening, dry but texturous, ample in fruit flavor without losing focus, Feuillatte draws from 5,000 growers and more than 5,000 vineyard acres (nearly 1,200 with premium Premiere and Grand Cru ranking) for enticing red fruit and biscuity complexity. A satisfying aperitif and complement to flavorful cheese (aged Gruyere), seafood (salmon), fine red meats (filet mignon) and strawberry scones with clotted cream.
So, winegrowers pool their land, skill and expenses in cooperatives.
France's first wine making cooperative was established in 1895. Over the years cooperatives have amplified their members' voices, winning a fierce battle to grant the Languedoc region its own AOC, along with the quality controls of official sanction.
Today, cooperatives produce nearly half of all French wine, maintaining quality and tradition, as well as survival.
The Picpoul grape was near extinction until the Caves de Pomerol cooperative invested in the ancient regional variety. Today, we can enjoy Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet with light apple and pear flavors for a unique, refreshing aperitif ($11).
The Sir d'Arques cooperative championed its regional sparkling wine so that now Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux is an affordable and delicious bubbly for breakfast, lunch and dinner ($15).
Anyone who has purchased compact fluorescent light bulbs knows that energy efficiency comes at a price. The cooperative Centre Vinicole - Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte (see Ross' Choice) is paying that price with investments including power-down equipment, 100 percent green electricity and by reducing daily water consumption to that of hourly usage in 1999.
And while grower cooperatives have faded in California history, some small properties still partner for tasting rooms (such as the Family Wineries tasting rooms of Dry Creek and Kenwood), storage and shipping, guaranteeing that you and I will be able to enjoy the fruits of their collective labor.
• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Contact her at email@example.com.