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169. Cooperative, Organic, Fairtrade – Is This the World’’s Most Ethical Wine?

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Coop Name: La Riojana Cooperativa N° of Employees: 307
City: Chilecito N° of Members: 500
Country: Argentina Year of formation: 1940
Website: http://www.lariojanawines.com Twitter: Link
About this coop:

Large cooperative winery in La Rioja, Argentina producing Fairtrade and organic wines.

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Sheep. They’’re the secret ingredient to La Riojana’s organic viticulture. Located in north-western Argentina, the cooperative winery already benefits from an arid climate, with little rainfall, cool nights and warm days. “It’’s perfect for organic growing because you don’’t need a lot of chemicals to control pests,” says Nick Day, the winery’’s sales director for Europe and the UK. “Plus we use sheep. We take them around the vineyards and they eat everything – weeds, pests, they keep the grass under control – and then their manure fertilizes the vines.” The winery was founded in La Rioja province in 1940 by Italian immigrants, and the cooperative now has 500 member-growers across the province, most with less than three hectares of vineyards, some of which are Fairtrade and organically certified. They sell their grapes to the central winery in Chilecito in the Famatina Valley, where they receive a guaranteed price. They also benefit from transportation of grapes from the vineyard to the winery, access to credit and an emergency fund, profit distribution, free technical assistance, economies of scale for the purchase of diesel and other inputs, collective frost insurance and a policy of one member, one vote irrespective of their production size. Over the years, La Riojana has grown to represent 60% of wine production in the region, with an average of 40 million litres of wine produced every year. As well as being a cooperative, the winery is also a pioneering force in Fairtrade and organic wine. The first Argentinian winery to be Fairtrade certified, it is now the world’’s largest producer of certified Fairtrade and organic wines. Already 25% of the winery’’s output is Fairtrade certified by FLO, meaning that the certified growers are paid a social premium, based on sales, which they can use for social and infrastructure projects that benefit the whole community. So far, the village of Tilimuqui, where many of the winery’’s workers live, has received a new water facility, providing clean drinking water, and a new secondary school, specializing in agricultural studies. Extra funding for both projects came from The Co-operative, which sells many of La Riojana’s wines in the UK. “We’’re looking at ways of certifying the whole winery,” says Nick, “including our production of olive oil, raisins, grape juice. But we use best practices anyway, and the rest of the growers who are not Fairtrade-certified are still sharing the benefits.” La Riojana is also leading the way in ecological packaging: in 2010 they introduced the Fair & Square range of Fairtrade wines packaged in lightweight, unbreakable, 100% recyclable Tetra Prisma containers, made from renewable resources. The winery’’s overall goal is to become “carbon negative” by implementing carbon-neutral projects for better water management and the use of more renewable energy sources like wind and solar. They are also looking to expand their production of organic wines. Currently 10% of production is organic, from around 345 hectares of vineyards certified by Argencert, Argentina’s organic certification body. Organic is big business, with organic wines representing 44% of all of La Riojana’s sales in Europe, and small projects are certifying more vineyards every year, says Nick. Those sheep are going to be kept busy!

Author of this story
Carla Ranicki
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