This past September, I visited a number of small, medium, and large German wineries in Baden, Württemberg, and the Pfalz regions. There is a false belief in the wine world that small wineries produce higher quality wines than larger operations, especially cooperative wineries (or co-ops). However, the patchwork of family stories and wines I tasted at a few German wine cooperatives was case in point to dispel this myth. From my trip, there are two German cooperatives, one in Baden and one in the Pfalz, which you should seek out.

Durbacher Winzergenossenschaft

Let’s start with Durbacher Winzergenossenschaft, located in Durbach, Baden. The winery sits on the verge of the northern Black Forest Mountains, about 4 miles northeast of the town of Offenburg. The topography means that the grapes are grown almost exclusively on steep slopes, with gradients of 70 to 80 percent (that’s crazy steep). Consequently, harvesting grapes must be done by hand. The climate is also very favorable, with plenty of sunshine when it matters the most — that is, during the summer growing season.

Baden is Germany’s southernmost wine region and nearly half of its vineyards are planted with Burgundian varieties (Spätburgunder, Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder). With 252 member families (it was founded in 1982 by 98 farmers) and a total planted area of 330 hectares (an average of less than 1.5 hectare per family!), the Durbacher winery produces about 2.5 million gallons of wine per year. The closeness of the community of member families ensures consistent quality. Each 1.5-hectare has its own flair owing to the individual family, but all families work together to create a wholeness true to Germany’s terroir.

Durbacher grows dozens of grape varieties, heavily dominated by Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) with almost half of their planted area (43.5%), followed by Riesling with almost a third (28%), and then Müller-Thurgau and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) with roughly 10% each. Other grape varieties are represented in very small quantities. With these grapes they produce a wide range of wines, most of them as varietal wines (a single grape variety) at different levels of quality and sweetness. That results in a number of bottlings — more than seventy. The wines are available at incredible values, ensuring that a large number of people have access to quality German wines.Wachtenburg Winzer

Next we headed north to the Pfalz, just north of Baden, where we had the opportunity to visit Wachtenburg Winzer, a cooperative located in Wachenheim an der Weinstraße, a small town in the Bad Dürkheim district, full of attractions and a lively scene for #winelovers. Put it on your itinerary!

The Pfalz is one of Germany's largest and historic wine regions. It’s home to the world's largest wine barrel, the world's largest wine festival (in Bad Dürkheim), the world's oldest wine in the Palatinate Historical Museum, and the first and best known wine route, the German Wine Road.

Wachtenburg Winzer started its operations in 1900 with 53 members. Two years later. the cooperative Luginsland was founded, and in 1969, the two cooperatives merged. In 1971, a third cooperative was added to the Winzergenossenschaft Gönnheim. Since 1997 their structure and name — Wachtenburg Winzer — remain the same, with 58 families as members, working on an area of approximately 335 hectares. A total area similar of that of Durbacher Winzergenossenschaft, but with less members, meaning that the average property size is almost 4 times bigger (almost 6 hectares) than the cooperative in Baden. Interestingly, they make over one hundred labels – versus Durbacher’s seventy. All families are different indeed! Again the cooperative arrangement benefits the winemakers and the consumers. Both quality and price are tightly controlled so that more people can drink more fantastic wine from a renowned winemaking nation.  

In my travels, I saw firsthand that winery size shouldn’t matter to a real #winelover. Historically, wine cooperatives emerged as a way for communities to share resources and maximize the production. The German cooperative is a perfect example of this, bringing families together in very real ways. And there are both social and economic advantages to the cooperatives. German farmers come together to actually “grow wine”, to the great benefit and pleasure of the wine drinker.