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Posts by Shane Shelton

Co-op Partner Spotlight: La Riojana

How did La Riojana get started?

Four generations ago, in the 1940s, our ancestors, many of whom were wine growers from Italy, first came to the area of La Rioja in north west Argentina and decided to come together to make wine.
What started out as a small bodega, buying grapes to turn to wine, slowly grew as different families made La Rioja province their home and started planting their own vines.
Hundreds of families have followed in their footsteps, all working together to share their grapes and build what has become the La Riojana co-operative.

How big is the co-op now?

We have over 500 producer partners, many from families that have been part of the co-op since its beginning. Our members help to produce over four million cases of wine a year from over 4,000 hectares of vineyards. Over 80% of them are small-scale producers, with the majority owning no more than three hectares each.

La Riojana is one of the largest co-ops in Argentina and is currently ranked the country’s third largest wine exporter by volume. But for our growers, their families and communities, La Riojana means so much more than just the company to whom they sell their grapes.

  • They are the foundation to the winery’s success. Everything La Riojana does is based on providing help, support and services that allow our members and families to grow and prosper.
  • Co-operative principles are the fundamental philosophy of the business. Every member gets one vote in helping decide what the overall co-operative does regardless of size.
  • We guarantee to provide a higher than average market price for each member’s grapes.
  • We ensure they benefit from lower prices through collective purchasing of services and products, like diesel, fertiliser and frost insurance. We offer financial and credit support to help members through difficult times. We also offer our members technical and agricultural advice.
  • By working closely with our members, we are able to ensure that all our products, from wines, sparkling wines, grape juice, to olive oil, meet the highest quality standards.

Why is Fair Trade so important?

The Fair Trade Minimum Price guarantees growers and producers a fair price for their grapes, which aims to cover their average cost of sustainable production, or the market price, whichever is higher. They also receive the Fair Trade Premium, where wine producers and their commercial partners will pay additional money to help invest in social and economic initiatives in their communities.

How does La Riojana contribute to it’s community?

Argentina is still a developing country and large parts of its wine production relies on growers and their workers living and working in small, remote, rural, poor communities, with often basic local services. They are often in need of a constant water supply and clean drinking water in what can be hot, hostile and difficult conditions.

By following Fair Trade principles, we have been able to raise funds to invest in vital services, for not just our immediate La Riojana growers and workers, but for their families, friends and the wider communities in which they live.

To date, La Riojana has invested in over 30 different projects to benefit our members, workers and their families as well as our local communities. These projects include:

  • Local Community Improvements 
  • Production Improvements
  • Healthcare
  • Socio-economic improvements
  • Administration & training

“Fair Trade allows us to expand our role in terms of social responsibility, it allows our workers who live in rural areas access to good standards of health and education, and also allows them to improve their general standard of living.” Rodolfo Griguol, chief winemaker

There are three projects that particularly stand out:

  • The Tilimuqui water project which has brought a reliable supply of fresh drinking water for the first time to the local community where many of Riojana’s workers and their families live. This project involved the building of a deep well, a reservoir and a water storage tank to provide enough pressure to serve the wider community.

“Before the water project we only had water every so often. We now have a water tank installed in our house giving us a reliable running water supply. Our community now has drinking water 24 hours a day, every day of the year.” — Rene Alejandro Garcia, vineyard worker

  • The Tilimuqui school project which funded the construction of the area’s first secondary school, therefore enabling teenage children in the area to stay in the community and has a current intake of over 400 children.

“The school has given me the opportunity to learn many new skills and a good education. When I leave school I want to study agricultural engineering and eventually work as an agricultural engineer.” — Angel Leonel Morales, Tilimuqui School student

  • Construction of a new health clinic started in 2016 to bring healthcare to 10,000 people living in the villages of Tilimuqui, Malliagasta and Riojana’s wider communities.

A few words from Wine Buyer Shane Shelton:

By bringing these wines to the US and selling them exclusively to co-ops, La Riojana hopes to continue to make a positive impact. This includes creating sustainable villages with solar power and organic certification for its farms. This is great and I haven’t even got to my favorite part, the wines!

They’re fantastic! The Malbec is medium bodied and exceptionally smooth. The Chardonnay is vibrant and delicate. The Cabernet Sauvignon is smooth and fruity. The Bonarda/Malbec blend is a smooth and medium-bodied wine.

All of the wines from La Riojana are fairly priced wines of exceptional quality. When you buy La Riojana you are getting more than just a great value, you’re also helping to make positive change. From co-op to co-op!


Local Vendor Spotlight: Austin EastCiders

1. What led you to start Austin Eastciders?

At the beginning of the 20th century, cider was the #1 beverage in America. Then came Prohibition, which resulted in America’s cider apples orchards being destroyed. When people here began making cider again in the 90s, culinary apples were the only ones widely available. That’s why American ciders today are known for being overly sweet. We set out to make America fall in love with cider all over again by making it the traditional way.

2. What kind of apples do you use?

We use real cider apples that we source from Europe. Unlike culinary apples, cider apples are full of tannins that create astringency and a much more complex flavor profile. We then marry them with apples from Washington State.

3. How would you describe the flavor of your ciders?

Austin Eastciders ciders are perfectly-balanced ciders that are dry, clean, crisp, refreshing and taste almost too good going down.

4. What are some of your favorite pairings?

There’s no question our ciders are great on their own. They fill the role of beer in some ways. They fill the role of wine or champagne in others. They also happen to adapt quite nicely all around the drink world. From Pineapple serving as the base in an $18 cocktail to our Texas Honey whiskey on poker night, there’s no wrong way to enjoy Austin Eastciders. As far as food goes, Austin Eastciders pairs well with really anything from a cheese board to barbecue to a five-course dinner.

5. What kind of new products can we expect in the future?

Our Research & Development  department is constantly experimenting with new flavors and styles, some of which you can try in our tap room opening in November!


Local Vendor Spotlight: 4th Tap Cooperative Brewery

4th Tap co-founder and President, John Stecker, shared some info and insight about the first worker-owned cooperatively-governed brewery in Texas.

1. Can you tell me how 4th Tap got started?

We had all been homebrewers for a very long time, and we slowly built into a weekly “club” event. We were clearly doing something right because we began to get increasingly frequent requests to send beer out to events. We spent many years brewing weekly and sending our beer out to parties, weddings, SXSW events, etc., which really helped us to develop our unique approach to beer styles. It will be six years this December when we decided to make a real go at opening a production brewery, and from when we came up with the name 4th Tap Brewing Cooperative. At the time, we already had strong biochemistry and engineering backgrounds, but we recognized we needed more. Chris Hamje went to work in the Black Star Co-op brewery for a number of years while I spent time getting a crash course in business education while working at another company here in Austin. We also went through the Cooperation Texas training program to learn more about how to build and participate in a worker-cooperative. From there, it was raising the money, finding a location, and getting it built. That last sentence really does not do justice to the absurd amount of work it took to get from idea to functioning brewery. Bottom line, a whole lot of real sweat and blood went into building this place.

2. What are some of the challenges and benefits of being the first worker-owned cooperatively-governed brewery in Texas?

Explaining what a worker-cooperative is to just about everyone! Second, answering the question, “why didn’t you just open as an LLC?” which I am sure we have still not answered to many people’s satisfaction — but we don’t really care. We believe in our structure, and that is, ultimately, all that matters. Beyond those two questions, there have been plenty of business and legal hurdles. From working with credit unions, taxes, loans, and TABC/TTB filings, everything is a bit more difficult. It has also been compounded by the fact that Texas views us as a non-profit organization while the federal government views us a for-profit. One of our core principles here is the triple bottom line— people, planet, and profits— so that has been a point of frustration at times. As for benefits? Our team. We have an amazingly dedicated and passionate team that share in the work load to such a high degree. They go so far above and beyond and I have to attribute some of that to our model.

3. What are some of your favorite pairings or recipes using 4th Tap beers?

The Renewal, with spicy food, will do you right. The tart, almost mild-sour quality from the real tamarind does a great job of balancing a good spicy dish. We’ve also received messages and pictures from people who have used our Sun Eater to make rosemary lemon bread, and to marinate a chicken breast for a rosemary chicken dinner. Our Long Walk really goes well with a romaine and mandarin orange salad. Also, surprisingly, gingers snaps and Long Walk. Seriously, give that a try.

4. Tell us a little about your beers and your brewing philosophy. What makes 4th Tap unique?

There are so many beers being brewed in Texas, especially in Austin, and much of it is really, really good. Just from Austin alone, I can go out and find great examples of most styles of beer. For that reason, we wanted to make sure that we brought something new to the table. We focus on creating out-of-style, interesting, but still very drinkable beers made for our home here in Texas. We also spend time looking for local or exciting ingredients that can really enhance the qualities we like in different styles of beer. We don’t add ingredients to a beer for the novelty of it, or just to punch you in the tongue with it. If we’re adding something different, we’re adding it for a good reason.

5. What are some of your favorite things about Wheatsville Co-op?

Short lines! Seriously, I hate waiting in long lines and Wheatsville keeps them in check! In broader sense, we love that Wheatsville makes it a priority to not just provide local and organic food, but to often communicate the story of the suppliers. Wheatsville is a supporter of the local food economy, which supports the local financial economy, and that is an important and worthy undertaking. Wheatsville is also a living and breathing example of a cooperative business model in action! Also, I appreciate Wheatsville being the neighborhood grocery store back in my north-campus-living college days. Y’all kept me fed!


Local Vendor Spotlight: Adelbert’s Brewery

Adelbert’s Brewery produces hand-crafted Belgian style ales right here in Austin, Texas. Started by Scott Hovey, Adelbert’s Brewery is a tribute to his brother, George Adelbert Hovey (1953-2000). Del always took time to enjoy a good ale with family and friends.

Scott and head brewer, Taylor Ziebarth, have both been passionate home brewers for many years. Scott completed the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Malting and Brewing Science Course and Taylor attended the American Brewers Guild’s Intensive Brewing Science & Engineering program.

Adelbert’s Brewery is committed to brewing Belgian-style, bottle-conditioned ales. They believe quality beers require quality ingredients and a painstaking attention to detail throughout the brewing process. They use Bohemian old-world floor malted barley, low alpha Noble Czech hops, and fresh yeast propagated at the brewery. In their seven vessel brewhouse, they use a time consuming, multi-temperature decoction mash technique which extracts a more complex flavor from their grains.

They were happy to answer a few questions for us:

1. Can you tell me about the Inspiration behind your brewery? 
Adelbert’s Brewery is named in honor of Scott’s brother, George Adelbert Hovey (went by Del), who passed away in 2000. When Scott decided to start the brewery, he couldn’t think of a better way to pay tribute to his brother than name the brewery after him. Then after seeing a commercial about “the most interesting man in the world” he knew that made up character had nothing on his brother and his real life experiences. That’s where all of our beer names come from. Each is named after a different story Del would tell.

2. What kinds of beers do you make and what is your brewing philosophy?
We are a Belgian-style brewery focused on bottle conditioned ales. 99% of our ingredients (accept the water which we get from Austin) are sourced directly from Europe (malt, hops, yeast strains). We are about as authentic an European brewed beer you can get here in the states.

Adelbert’s Brewery is committed to brewing Belgian-style, bottle-conditioned ales for people to seek, savor, and share with others. Adelbert’s Brewery believes quality beers require quality ingredients and a painstaking attention to detail throughout the brewing process.

3. Why is bottle conditioned beer better?
At his first Craft Brewers Conference, Scott attended an aged beer tasting and fell in love. The cork and cage was the “sexiest” bottle format he’d seen and he liked the idea of creating beer that continued to develop and improve over time.
With bottle conditioning the beer is still alive. Overtime the flavors will continue to develop and change. They bring an excellent flavor when enjoyed fresh but also will bring something new to the table after a few months/years!

4. Who are your brewers and what is Adelbert’s history?
Scott Hovey, founder and brewmaster of Adelbert’s Brewery, believes in brewing the beer he likes to drink. A passionate homebrewer for many years, he found his calling when sampling aged Belgian beers at his first Craft Brewer’s Conference (CBC). In 2010, he completed the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Malting and Brewing Science Course while developing the business plan for Adelbert’s Brewery.

Shipping its first bottles in late 2011, Adelbert’s specializes in hand crafted Belgian-style ales. Now in its third year of business, Adelbert’s beer has received 11 awards and is distributed all over Texas, California and New Mexico as well as south Florida and the Long Island area. Prior to starting the brewery, Scott received his degree in electrical engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo and worked in the semi-conductor industry for more than 25 years. When he isn’t at the brewery, Scott can be found training for marathons and spending time with his wife and two kids.

Our head brewer is Taylor Ziebarth. He attended the American Brewers Guild’s Intensive Brewing Science & Engineering program.
Other brewhouse staff: David Yancey (brewer) and Conner Strickland (cellerman)

5.  Can you tell us what you like about working with the co-op?
Wheatsville on Guadalupe was one of our first accounts back in early 2012 when we first started selling! We’ve had an amazing relationship with Wheatsville for the last three years and were honored when you included us in your new store on Lamar! We are thrilled to work with such an awesome retailer and your amazing, knowledgeable staff!
Wheatsville is committed to working and promoting local vendors. You graciously took a chance on us when we first started out and we’ve been appreciative ever since. Since our first delivery in early 2012, we aimed to provide the same level of customer service and reliability that you provide your customers. We love working with local partners and Wheatsville is awesome to work with!

6. What excites you about Adelbert’s future?
Everything! Craft beer is booming and it’s an exciting time watch it grow all over. We recently built a new climate controlled finished goods warehouse to better serve our customers – it’s huge! We look forward to releasing several new beers over the coming year in addition to maintaining the outstanding quality of our year round offerings!


Parmigiano -Reggiano: The King of Cheese

We’ll be cracking a wheel of  Parmigiano-Reggiano early on the morning of Sunday, January 25th and the fresh cheese will be our Super Awesome One Day Deal for that day!  Save $9/lb!

Parmigiano -Reggiano is widely considered “The King of Cheeses.” Its name is a protected designation of origin in Europe. Parmigiano-Reggiano is made in the areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena (also known for its fabulous Balsamic vinegar) Bologna and Emilia Romagna. Only cheeses made in these areas and made with specific ingredients and aging times can carry the name Reggiano-Parmigiano. Parmesan is the French adjective for the Parmigiano and is used in the U.S.A. as the name for various hard cheeses. Parmigiano-Reggiano is the real deal, top of the line, A#1 grating cheese! It really doesn’t get any better that this.

Parmigiano is made from raw cow’s milk. The cows must graze on the grass of the area and are fed hay as part of their diet. Their local grass gives the cheese its distinctive nutty flavor. The whole milk from the morning milking and the skimmed milk from the previous evening’s milking are mixed and the leftover cream from the skimmed milk is used to make mascarpone.

After the cheese is aged for 12 months, an inspector from the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects each wheel, using a small hammer. They will hit the cheese in various spots and listen to hear if there are fissures inside the cheese. No fancy electronic equipment necessary, in Italy they do things old school! All cheeses that pass the inspection are branded with the Consorzio’s seal. All cheeses that fail are stripped of all markings, a sad fate for a cheese that aspires to greatness. The cheese that passes the test is then left to age for another year. These master cheese makers are not playing around!

Parmigiano-Reggiano is lower in fat and sodium and higher in vitamins and minerals than most cheese. It contains 19 of 21 amino acids the body needs, and a 1 ounce serving provides as much as 30% of a person’s RDA for calcium. Parmigiano contains more protein than most meats and contains other essential vitamins and minerals such as, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and copper.

Parmigiano is traditionally used as a topping on pasta and soups,but in the areas of Modena and Parma, chunks are eaten with splashes of balsamic vinegar, nuts and wine. Parmigiano is also delicious eaten with honey, and don’t you dare throw away the rind! It is sublime when added to soups and broths. Just use it as you would a soup bone.


Farm Visit: Pure Luck!

On a recent visit to Pure Luck Farm we got to meet Amelia Sweethardt and the super awesome goats that are  behind the handmade, award-winning artisan goat cheese we all find impossible to resist! Shane, our Beer, Wine & Cheese Buyer, made this video so he could share his trip with you!