Here’s to the cooperative spirit!

Here’s to the cooperative spirit!

Exploring the past and future in the vineyards

Some came for the day out, some to investigate an interesting new specialisation and others were mainly there for the wine when I joined a party of just over a dozen translators for a vineyard tour at the weekend. We were in rural Barberà de la Conca, if you’re talking about the village, or Conca de Barberà if you’re referring to the designation of origin, which is not the easiest place to get to if, like me, you don’t have a car. But if two of the professional associations I belong to (MET and APTIC) were going to organise an event like this, I wasn’t about to miss it, and my colleague Justine Sherwood kindly came to the rescue and offered me a lift.

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Vineyards near Barberà de la Conca.

Getting down to Barberà, over an hour’s drive south of Barcelona, for breakfast meant rather an early start, which proved to be too early for the other intended occupant of Justine’s car, who unfortunately overslept and had to come by train later on. The two of us who did make it arrived in plenty of time to join a vineyard walk and winetasting before breakfast, as our guide, Ramon, insisted that we shouldn’t eat until we’d first sampled his wine.

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Trepat grapes nearly ready to be harvested.

What makes Conca de Barberà special is the Trepat grape, a black variety used to make rosé, red and even white wine, as well as rosé cava. Its unusual flavour, with spicy touches and musky vegetable notes meant it wasn’t to everyone’s taste but I enjoyed its interesting and distinctive wines, one of which certainly helped wash down my breakfast.

Barberà de la Conca, now home to MET’s Anne Murray, who organised the visit for us, is remarkable as the site of the first Spanish wine cooperative, founded in 1884 by small landowners and day labourers, who then built their own winery at the beginning of the twentieth century. In fact, for many years it had were two cooperatives in the town, as the larger landowners decided to found their own too. Self-build was never going to be good enough for their winery, and they hired modernista architect Cèsar Martinell i Brunet to design it, but the venture was plagued by financial difficulties and never quite finished as had been intended. When the two cooperatives were forcibly merged in 1934, it was the “poor” people’s cooperative that had to pay off the “rich” cooperative’s debts!

All this we learned in a day that included talks, visits, a very pleasant lunch and, of course, plenty of opportunities to try and buy wine. I also had the chance to chat to several colleagues, including Aisha Prigann, a wine translator with more experience than I have in this specialist area. Far from seeing me as an annoying potential competitor, she was very friendly and positive. Her view was that there is plenty of translation work to go round in the world of wine and we discussed the possibility of perhaps working together on projects in the future.

The modernista cooperative at Barberà de la Conca.

The modernista cooperative at Barberà de la Conca.

In the course of our tour, we found that, well over a century on from the emergence of the cooperative movement, Barberà is still a wine industry pioneer. Following the closure of the older of the cooperative’s two wineries towards the end of the last century (the modernista one remains operational today), a project was born to reuse it as a business nursery for wine-related start-up companies. Now, young entrepreneurs are given the chance to share premises and expensive equipment and offered advice and training while they take their first steps in the world of business. Once established, they are encouraged to leave the shelter of the nursery and make their own way in the world outside. Not all survive, of course, but at least this initiative from the wine cooperative and the local council means they get the best possible chance, and some of them are making a real impact with their wines.

We heard that when Pasqual Maragall, a former prime minister of Catalonia and an economist by training, visited the project, he remarked, admiringly, that it appeared to break the basic laws of economics to have businesses that should be competitors working closely together, sharing experiences and learning from one another in this way. But to a translator, it doesn’t sound nearly so strange.  The cooperative spirit lives!

Main photo by Anne Murray of MET.

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