When the international organic sector gathers at the World’s Leading Trade Fair in Nuremberg from 12 to 15 February, trade visitors from all segments of the industry will once again enjoy a wealth of inspiration for their own wine collections. In addition to the many wine-related discoveries in the international halls, highlights not to be missed are Experience the World of WINE and the international organic wine award MUNDUS VINI BIOFACH in Hall 7! More than a trend, organic wine is the future, as the dynamic growth in the sector abundantly confirms.
The standard response was a disdainful sniff, or a tired smile at most. Organic wines didn’t enjoy a good reputation 20 years ago, and that was still the case a decade later. The tide has turned since then. Prominent top-level wineries like Clemens Busch (Mosel), Wittmann (Rheinhessen), Dr. Bürklin-Wolf (Palatinate), Peter Jakob Kühn (Rheingau), Lageder (Alto Adige), Domaine de la Romanée Conti (Burgundy), and Alvaro Palacios (Priorat, Spain) have been applying organic or even biodynamic principles in their vineyards and cellars for some time now, and many others are following their example. Since 2013, organic wine production in the three major wine-producing countries alone (Spain, France, and Italy) has grown by more than 70 percent. The overall proportion of organically certified vineyards within Europe’s wine-growing areas has also grown 3.4 times since 2008 to 9.5 percent.
What’s behind the growth?
The main driver is the strong and continuing increase in demand for organic wine, and the fact that producers are responding. Peter Riegel, Europe’s largest organic trader, began 35 years ago by importing wines from
three politically active French winemakers, two of which were organic. Today Riegel imports and markets organic wines from 200 winemakers around the world, the majority from Italy, France, Spain, and Germany. In the past few years, growth has been a steady six to nine percent. “It’s clear that the proportion of organic wine offered by food and beverage retailers and discounters is on the rise, at the expense of conventional wine,” Riegel notes. He’s pleased to report that there’s a trend toward a higher quality of wine among end consumers, and this means that wine drinkers are now happy to pay more for a bottle of organic wine.
Another argument for switching to organic winegrowing is that winemakers no longer want to gamble with their health, because applying pesticides does more than just kill off fungal diseases, weeds, and other organisms at the vineyard. For many organic pioneers like Lotte Pfeffer-Müller of the VDP vineyard Brüder Dr. Becker (Rheinhessen), environmental protection has long been an important focus. This was the motivating factor for responsible organic winemakers well before climate change, now a major public concern, became generally acknowledged.
Even so, the key factor causing many winemakers to switch to environmentally friendly winemaking is a greater focus on quality and a desire to produce better wines. This was also the challenge that led Volker Benzinger (Palatinate) to switch to organic in 2016, with certification from the Ecovin association. What motivated him? “We made our business future-proof, and we’d like to continue our journey toward the premium segment. We won’t be around for much longer if we stay on the conventional path.” Even before making the switch, Benzinger adopted an approach that was minimalist and as natural as possible. It was logical, therefore, to avoid using herbicides and other synthetic chemical substances in the vineyard. He can see a clear trend toward natural wines in the Benelux countries and in Scandinavia. More than 30 percent of his revenue from sulphite-free wines comes from this market. Conversely, demand for natural wines of this kind is still in its infancy in Germany. Beinzinger considers German buyers very sensitive to price and less willing to pay more for natural wines, although he does see room for development.
The existence of a trend toward biodynamic wines is beyond dispute, whether or not winemakers relate to Rudolf Steiner’s teachings in this field. The result in the bottle is impressive. More and more winemakers are going biodynamic, and they enjoy a high regard among wine drinkers. Just 1,036 vineyards around the world have been certified by Demeter or Biodyvin. That represents growth of 38 percent over the total of 747 in 2016. The largest vineyard operating on biodynamic principles in Europe is Bodega Parra Jimenez, with 500 hectares in La Mancha (Spain).
Climate change boosts demand for adaptable varieties
In an age of climate change, new varieties capable of adaptation, or “fungus-resistant grape varieties,” are becoming increasingly important. These are real carbon-savers because they require no more than 20 percent of the protection needed by established varieties. That means fewer tractor runs and therefore lower emissions and less soil compaction.
Experts assume that wines made from these sustainable grape varieties will grow in importance in the future. Unfortunately, according to Riegel, this is not yet reflected in revenues because end consumers don’t yet relate to varieties like Solaris, Johanniter, Cabernet Blanc, or Pinotin. At best, these will sell in cuvées with attractive labels and fancy names, or in specialist shops offering professional advice. If sellers make the effort to explain the advantages of the new varieties to customers and offer them an unbiased tasting opportunity, then wines other than the usual Merlot and Riesling will have a chance.
Christian Wolf, head of tasting for MUNDUS VINI BIOFACH, takes a positive view of the development of fungus-resistant grape varieties, and he’s generally impressed by the quality of the organic wines submitted from a total of 13 countries this year. The jurors include 45 tasters from 15 countries. The ceremony for the major international organic wine award MUNDUS VINI BIOFACH will be held from 16:00 to 17:00 on 13 February 2020.