There is never an ideal time for a cave cooperative to go into administration but very close to the vintage is a particularly bad moment. On 18th September 2013 the Cave du Haut Poitou in Neuville went into administration, having rejected a partnership with Frédéric Brochet’s Ampelidae. Will this prove to be the final act for the coop, which has had a series of problems over the past 20 years or so?
The Cave Cooperative du Haut Poitou used to have a high reputation with its wines regularly seen in the UK. Unfortunately the current problems appear to stem from the severe frost of April 1991, which was followed by the very abundant vintage of 1992. This succession of famine and plenty had severe economic and commercial consequences. The coop nearly went bust in 1994 but was rescued by an investment from Beaujolais’ George’s Duboeuf, which took the coop out of administration.
There was a long drawn out delay in constructing a new winery as the coop’s original premises were hopelessly out of date. Eventually a new facility was built in Neuville just up the road from the original winery.
However, in 2006 Duboeuf pulled out. Consequently it was decided that the coop’s wines would be marketed by Alliance Loire in Saumur. This arrangement would appear not to have been a successful as hoped.
By 2013 the coop had debts of 3.3 million euros. Having previously sold off the Château de Brizay, the administration looked to sell off another of their individual properties – Château la Fuye in Marigny-Brizay. This alerted Frédéric Brochet that the coop was yet again in difficulties as he explains:
"In April we were contacted by an estate agent telling us that there was a property with 25 hectares of vines for sale in the commune. It didn’t take a genius to work out that it was La Fuye. We started talks to find a partnership solution. We would buy the vines of La Fuye and rent them back to the coop for three year/ and the coop would remain a coop.
On the 9th August there was a meeting with the members of the coop. Our plan, which had the agreement of Alliance Loire, was explained, put to a vote and accepted. Unfortunately the directors of the coop were against the plan and they resigned en masse leaving only the president to run the coop – an impossible position.
On 18th September there was a second meeting where the vote of 9th August was overturned. With no rescue plan there was no option but for the coop to go into administration."
What has followed is a rushed scramble to find solutions for the 2013 grapes of the 40 remaining members who have 250 hectares of vines between them. The impending harvest is having the advantage of concentrating minds, especially as there is an increasing threat of rot developing rapidly. 16 coop members with 93 hectares between them signed a three-year agreement with Ampelidae this last week.
The 16 will deliver their grapes to the coop as usual and Frédéric and his team will make the wine there as there isn’t sufficient capacity at the Château des Roches and also Ampelidae is organic, so they need to vinify non-organically produced grapes elsewhere. Whether Frédéric will have the use of the coop’s facilities next year remains to be seen, although their hope is to be able to buy the coop’s winery. As there are agreements between Ampelidae and Alliance Loire, there is a strong possibility that AOP Haut Poitou wines will be sold through Alliance Loire.
The remaining members of the coop are likely to strike deals with large Loire companies like Lacheteau, part of Grands Chais de France. It is very probable that the resulting wine will be vin de pays or vin de France as it cannot be AOP Haut-Poitou unless it is made in the area of production and none of the large groups have vinification facilities in Haut-Poitou.
It looks as though the politics of envy at the success of Ampelidae may have finally condemned the Cave du Haut Poitou!