Our mini-series on visiting French vineyards looked at the “etiquette” of visits and explored the range of different types of facilities on offer.
There is however another option – which is to visit one of the many local co-operative wineries. The advantage is that they are staffed throughout the day, usually have a lot of good value wines on offer and you can usually get wine “on draught”. If you buy a plastic 5 litre “cubitainer” you can get it filled up with wine for a ridiculously low price – or sometimes be able to purchase wine boxes of the local wine.
A broad generalisation would be that co-operative wines are less “exciting” than many of those made by small independent winemakers. However, whilst this may apply to many, especially in the south of France, others do produce high quality wines.

In Alsace, for example, many of the best wines are produced by co-ops such as Turckheim and will offer an excellent tasting and range of wines.

In the Loire Valley, the Cave des Producteurs de Vouvray has a wide range of wine styles on offer and an interesting visit through the underground cellars.

In the Southwest, the co-op at Buzet (les Vignerons de Buzet) led the re-creation of the vineyard and established the appellation’s reputation for good quality wines. The visit to the winery also includes a demonstration of cooperage (barrel-making).
Another example of how good a co-op can be is at Plaimont in Gascony, deep in the heart of Armagnac country. A wide range of great quality wines from simple Vins de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne through to rich Madiran reds.

At Marmande the visit will be more basic, but the Cotes du Marmandais wines are fine and good value for money,
In the Languedoc one of my favourite Co-operative cellars is in the small village of Embres-et-Castelmaure in the Corbieres – some truly excellent wines in a delightfful if rustic surroundings.
Finally in the Southern Rhone valley I’d recommend the Cave de Beaumes-de-Venise for their well-known dessert Muscat wine, but also some very good red Cotes du Rhone.