You want to live here. You just don’t know it yet.
I have never felt more welcome in my entire life than I did during and after our visit to the Cooperativa Garriguella. From the very first hello said by export manager Leonora, aka “Leo”, I new this was place was special. The word “visit” is the most inadequate one to use to describe our time here. It felt more like coming home, or at least what coming home should feel like. In fact, I don’t actually recall ever feeling this warm and welcome when I’ve gone back to Kansas, where I grew up.
The next time I click my heels this is where I want to go.
We were made comfortable immediately during our introduction to Leonora who, as noted above, insisted we call her Leo. There was a unique instant familiarity when we stepped out of the car and she greeted us from the front door of the weighing station. It was like going home for Thanksgiving and seeing the entire family waiting for you on the front porch in anticipation of your arrival.
Leo whisked us quickly to the Cooperativa’s main entrance. The building houses the bulk of the winery’s business activities, but also serves as a social hub for the community of Garriguella. Half corner grocer and half cafe, the place buzzes with a symphony of happy voices working and visiting. Once inside we were introduced to and greeted by more friendly faces. I couldn’t keep track! As we walked through this very enticing store, we were proudly informed almost everything which graced its shelves, from produce to preserves, was produced or grown by the people in and around the town. Laughter and the sounds of a very active espresso machine drifted into the store from the cafe where we would later find ourselves very content and full. The food and hospitality are wonderful. The best part? The store is open on Sunday, a complete rarity for any area outside of the tourist zones of the beaches.
We met and spent time with elected cooperative president Guillem. A grape grower and winemaker himself, he shared with us the history of Garriguella’s humble beginnings to its overall philosophy that allows all members to be represented and respected equally, regardless of their annual yield and contribution. Founded in 1963 to give local grape growers fairer prices and a voice, it managed to accomplish something even greater. The coop gave them security and a future; it has paid off in spades. Now the coop is largest producer in Alt Emporda with 541 acres of vineyards. 70 percent of its vines are over 50 year old and does its best to achieve the optimal 2.5 kg of grapes per vine average.
After lunch Guillem gave us a personal tour of his own vineyards – part four wheel drive excursion and part intimate expression of his personal feelings about wine – sharing what he hopes the future will hold for the Cooperative. Both expansion and recognition were touched on within Catalunya and beyond by “el presidente”.
Pictures with faces from the past line the walls of the store, the cafe, and the second floor meeting room. We were treated to sit down with one of those depicted in the those historical pictures. Emilio was one of the four founders of Cooperativa Garriguella, and he bluntly shared why the cooperative was founded, and didn’t pull any punches.
In Garriguella there were four prominent families who controlled grape prices and wine production in the area. Being the only game in town, they offered buying prices to the local grape growers, barely making there lives liveable. One day Emilio called upon three other trusted and respected members of the community and convinced them to approach the town collectively to encourage the growers to form the Cooperativa. Emilio pushed the townspeople to stand up to the four families and essentially end their iron grip on the industry. Stand they did and they continue to stand strong today with influence and control over their own destiny. There is a spark in the eyes of Emilio as he shares this with us. Perhaps it was there from day one to ignite the four to approach more people and light a fire still burning bright today, fuelling this community.
While a new generation runs the coop today, it has not forgotten where it comes. Literally. In the fermentation facility, one grape grower, Roger, shared the fact that despite his father´s great effort to encourage him to be anything but a winemaker and grape grower, he still enthusiastically followed in his footsteps. Is there a more sincere way for a son to show his respect, admiration and love to his father than to willfully and happily follow his lead in life? Roger gets it. He has seen what his father help build and he wanted to play a part. With dedication and devotion like this, how can it not?
We also sat with Treasurer Isabel who, half Catalan and half German, had moved away for several years only to be compelled to return when her need for community and belonging grew. Still having many friends in Garriguell,a she was easily able to to reintegrate and then took over land to grow grapes for the cooperativa. While she claims her few hectares are not enough to make this a business for herself, she does very much appreciate what her “hobby” has given her.
Our few hours in Garriguella at Coop gave us great insight into why Isabel moved here with her children and veterinarian husband. When you are a member of this community, you never lose your sense of belonging because the community does not let you lose it. Once you are one of their own, you are always one of their own, even if you’re not a Catalan by birth.
This is not an exclusive society, but an inclusive collective of people with open minds and kind hearts. This was personified best by our host Leo, who herself is from Mexico and here originally to learn about the winemaking business. Learning she is, but not just about wine. The education she receives here can be applied to life, as well as business. Fairness, respect and cooperation are building blocks which can be applied everywhere. I have a pretty good feeling Leo already carried these ideals with her when she arrived and was immediately at home among kindred souls.
Timmer and I too came here to learn and we did. We learned how many hearts can beat as a collective one to produce wonderful wines truly representative of the Catalan spirit and standing true to a philosophy of which Catalunya can be proud. Like everything properly cared for and nurtured, it has grown and flourished. The Cooperativa Garriguella has been in the right hands since day one. With Leo, Guillem, Roger, Isabel and the watchful sparkling eye of Emilio, it continues to be. The coop has my attention and admiration. I´m going to enjoy watching it continue to grow and flourish.
I always talk about how someday I’m going to retire from city life and leave the rat race behind me. I’ll buy some land with a modest house on it, spend the rest of my days sitting on my front porch with a shogun, and tell people to “stay outta my yard”. I’ve found where I want this land and house, but there will be vines in my “yard” and I won’t need the shotgun. I actually want these folks to drop on by. I want to be one of them. There’s no place like Cooperativa Garriguella. There’s no place like Cooperativa Garriguella. There’s no place like Cooperativa Garriguella.
Tim Brown (aka Timmer on social media) has been involved in marketing for over 20 years and a wine enthusiast since his first exposure to Duck Pond Winery in Newberg, Oregon, back in 1995. After coming to Europe in 2012, he made his home in Catalunya in 2013 and became enchanted with the wines and winemakers of the region. Now he shares his experiences so international visitors can enjoy the region’s wines, while continuing his work in the marketing world. Sommeliering and wine snobbery isn´t his thing, and he continues to learn more about wine from a Catalan perspective on a daily basis.