Chateau Co-op

(by peter & susie)

Yesterday we received the following press release from the Co-op about their planned new vineyard in Gloucestershire, where planting is due to start on Monday (10th May), “subject to weather conditions”.

Though this is by no means the first such initiative by a major UK retailer (see our previous blog here about Waitrose’s vineyard at Leckford), we thought it was interesting given the way it followed on from Peter’s piece about the state of British wine retailing, a subject he was discussing on BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme. (You can view this blog by clicking here.)

The Co-operative Group is no stranger to consolidation: it acquired the Somerfield chain in March 2009 and is now the UK’s fifth largest food retailer.

The Co-op has an annual turnover of some £14 billion, employs 123,000 staff and operates some 5,000 retail outlets. Every week, it handles more than 20 million transactions.

However, the Co-op is different from other major UK retailers in the way it is owned: not by shareholders, but by over five million consumers.

It is a bank, funeral parlour, grocer, insurer, travel agent and farmer all rolled into one.

In addition to which, it will soon be able to add wine grower.

It represents another, very welcome vote of confidence in the UK wine industry.

Press release from the Co-op:

The Co-operative Farms, the UK’s largest farmer, is to expand its successful Grown by Us food and drink range to include wine, as it plants a vineyard on its farm in Gloucestershire.

It will be the first time The Co-operative Group has produced its own wine, although it will be up to four years before the vines produce enough grapes for bottles to be available in store.

The vineyard will produce an English white wine, made primarily from the ortega grape variety, which will be sold as part of The Co-operative’s Grown by Us brand – food and drink either grown by The Co-operative Farms, or made using its produce.

The vineyard is being planted on around six acres at The Co-operative Farms’ site at Down Ampney, near Cirencester.

Christine Tacon, The Co-operative Farms’ Managing Director, said: “It’s a bit of an experiment but it’s one we are really looking forward to. The conditions at Down Ampney make it a good location to plant a vineyard, and it should make a great addition to our Grown by Us range.

“The Co-operative has a well-deserved excellent reputation for its wine, and, while it will take a lot of patience and an amount of luck, the prospect of adding an English white wine, made from grapes grown on one of our own farms, is very exciting.”

Gloucestershire is one of the UK’s leading wine-growing areas. Cirencester was a town in Roman times, and it’s likely that wine was grown in the area then. A wood next to The Co-operative’s Farm is called Vines Brake, suggesting it was once home to a vineyard.

As well as vines, The Co-operative Farms will plant a wildflower mix, to encourage wildlife, especially bees.

The Co-operative’s farm at Down Ampney already grows arable crops for products sold in Co-operative food stores, including spring barley used in its Grown by Us beers and wheat used to make Grown by Us flour. Hives on the farm are also used to produce The Co-operative’s English set honey.