The Hanleys’ Wine Cooperative

The idea for a wine cooperative within the Garden Club, that would grow vines, harvest the grapes and make wine, was mooted at one of the Club’s summer meetings in 2010.  It had been felt that the activities of the cooperative would have a positive effect on membership, increase interaction with the village community, provide an enjoyable outdoor pursuit and afford an opportunity to involve other parties, such as the local primary school. The idea received overwhelming approval and the Hanleys’ Wine Cooperative was born.

Since then, a working group of Joanna Bowles, Jenny McGowran and Russell Farraday has been busy taking the first steps towards making the cooperative a reality. The idea of a wine cooperative is not original, and a similar organisation calling itself the Urban Wine Company is thriving in London. Nevertheless, local vineyards were consulted on the feasibility of the cooperative here in Worcestershire. The advice and help of Denis and Ann Savage of Coddington Vineyard and Sandy Barker of Tiltridge Vineyard are acknowledged with thanks. They gave freely of their advice and saw the potential for the cooperative to be a success.

Based on the advice given, the working group undertook on behalf of the membership, the ‘arduous’ task of sampling the various wines and then selecting vines for the Cooperative. Based on taste and the ease with which they can be grown, Bacchus and Reichensteiner vines in the ratio 2:1, were selected. The grapes from the Bacchus will dominate the taste and aroma of the wine whilst the Reichensteiner vines, which are more prolific grape producers, will produce approximately half of the total yield of grapes despite only being one third of the total number of vines. The wine product is expected to be typically English – light crisp and aromatic. The Bacchus vine is the 3rd most popular vine grown in England and the Reichensteiner the 5th most popular. Between them, they represent 15% of the vines currently growing in the UK.

One hundred vines have been purchased from available Club funds and will be delivered by the supplier in April for free distribution to members and the local primary school. The membership fee, which is due in March, is £5 and membership is open to new members with general gardening interests or with interests only in the activities of the Cooperative. Vines are still available to anyone wanting to take up membership before April. Guidance notes on planting and caring for the vines will be issued to members and support will be given to those who need help getting started (soil preparation and support structure erection) from within the Club membership.

The Cooperative will become members of the South West Vineyards Association (the SWVA), an organisation which supports small vineyards. It is one of the six regional associations, which cover the wine growing areas of England and Wales. The SWVA covers an area from Cornwall to Dorset, north to Shropshire, the Marches and Wales. Membership of the SWVA will provide support to the Cooperative and a forum in which it can seek advice.

The yield of grapes in 2011 is unlikely to be in the quantity or of the quality suitable for wine making, so the Cooperative is aiming to make 2012 its first year for wine making. It intends to purchase its own wine processing plant and involve as many of the membership as possible in harvesting and processing the grapes and in bottling the wine. The primary school will be involved in designing the bottle label as well as being significant contributors to the grape harvest.

At this stage it is hard to estimate the number of bottles of wine that will be produced, but all members of the Cooperative should get one bottle and any surplus used to help fund the Cooperative. On which matter, the Cooperative will need funding for purchasing wine processing equipment. To purchase new, the equipment could cost in excess of £1500; and in addition there will be consumable costs (bottles, corks, shrink wraps). It may be possible to purchase equipment second hand but even so, there will be a significant fund raising target, which to achieve, will test the ingenuity of members. The challenge is set, but as encouragement, all Cooperative members should keep the end prize in mind – that bottle of your own, delicious English wine.