Cooperativa Loncomilla

Loncomilla Cooperative. Small-scale producers’ Organization.  [San Javier de Loncomilla, Maule Region, Chile].

To preserve t. v. To keep safe from damage, deterioration, loss or undesirable change.

Growth u. n. the process of developing or of increasing in size

When you cross the Loncomilla river, you can see trucks loaded with grapes lining up to enter the cooperative’s wineries. It’s harvest season and the hundred active partners of the Loncomilla Cooperative have sent their grapes in to start the 2022 wine production.The work done during the year ends here. Here, we determine whether the work was done well”, explains Emilio, an agronomist. With his colleague Alexis, they’re in charge of coordinating, advising and accompanying those small-scale producers—symbol of resilience and adaptability. Here you got to do it all, even the job of a psychologist [Emilio Fuentes, agronomist].

The Loncomilla Cooperative is located in a town with the same name, San Javier de Loncomilla. It’s in the Maule region, one of Chile’s most prominent winemaking areas. It’s characterized by the Uva País grape production. Grapesthat come from the “criolla or patrimonial grape[1] are more valuable because they root deep and have adapted much more naturally” to the local drylands.

Founded in 1959 in a country where cooperatives aren’t accepted, it survived Pinochet’s military regime and kept on growing. In the beginning, the cooperative started by renting out a winery” [Alvaro Muñoz, General Manager]. Today, surrounded by concrete and stainless-steel vats that can hold up to 22 million liters of wine, they tell us the story of the technical and productive development achieved thanks to the cooperative’s hard work.  There are many challenges.

For 13 years now, Chile has been struggling with a water crisis. A crisis made worse in the region due to the extensive pine and eucalyptus plantations. These were encouraged years ago for wood and cellulose production. The drought hit us hard… these last years […]and with all the pines they planted (…) the fires […] they suck up loads of water, there isn’t a drop left (…) they dried it all out.” [Pedro González, Small-scale producer].

In this region, the grapes depend on the rain. As it’s a dryland region, they don’t irrigate and there’s increasingly less rain. Before there were weeks of rain, the vineyard was completely flooded [Mireya Sepulveda, producer], when I was a kid, we had about a month of rain… now it’s been years [Osvaldo Rojas, harvester],it keeps on raining less [Álvaro Muñoz, General Manager].

On the other hand, technical and productive improvements are required given the ruthless whims of the global market and the cooperative’s determination to be competitive. This is no easy task for many small-scale producers. They’ve been doing things a certain way for many years and most of them aren’t getting any younger. Without the cooperative’s technical support, they would struggle to get the job done [Alexis Ramirez; Agronomist] and survive. This is why Alfonso, an oenologist from the large plantations quickly adds it isn’t just any business […] it’s not just about numbers, it’s way more social, there’s a whole world behind it […] that goes way beyond just making wine. “

Loncomilla is clearly committed to the environment, social matters and Fair Trade. The 22 million liters of wine produced there meet the high standards of production and traceability[2] required for Fairtrade certification.

This is no small matter for a cooperative with barely 100 active partners. It takes a great deal of effort and commitment from the small technical farm and winery team to manage to ensure that all grape growers keep their field notebooks in which they record product applications up to date and that they meet the standard of using environmentally-friendly products. They also make sure that the Fairtrade-certified grapes are crushed and de-vatted in the partner’s vats in proper sanitary conditions and that they comply with the risk prevention protocols always trying to set an example and promoting sustainable practices [Claudia Cancino Risk Management and Certifications]. A complicated task in a place where labor is becomingincreasingly scarce while the turnover rate keeps on rising. Last but not least, they verify that the small-scale producers are able to harvest grapes with the help of workers under fair working conditions.

Every day, the Loncomilla Cooperative strives to grow and make quality wines with patrimonial grapes such as the Uva País and the White Ovoid Grape all while meeting Fairtrade conditions. They’ve committed to the environment and sustainable productivity growth for different reasons. Firstly, because, as the rightful inhabitants of the area, the Criolla grapes[3] are adapted to dryland conditions and aren’t a threat to their environment. Secondly, today, small-scale producers can keep on living off their vineyards without having to pull them out to replace them with more high-yielding plantations such as pines, which are clearly a threat to the environment. And finally, because, as the general manager Alvaro says “what best defines this cooperative is that there’s strength in numbers” and that’s exactly what history tells us: they started without a winery and now they’re bottling quality Fairtrade wine.

The Loncomilla Cooperative and its small-scale producers are making quality wine with responsible industrial growth while complying with the environmental development requirements of Fairtrade Certification.               


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