Predicting the future of organic wines may seem easy. The number of certified hectares is constantly increasing in Europe. The small winegrowers are reconverting, as well as the famous Bordeaux châteaux. Consumers are buying more and more organic wines. Wholesale prices for organic wine are skyrocketing. Is there a reason this doesn’t continue?
There is much to suggest that he will continue in this direction. In this article we will mainly focus on France and Europe but the development will probably be similar elsewhere.
In 2012, we wrote our book “Biodynamic, organic and natural vinification”. At that time, the area of organic vineyards in Europe was just over 5%. Today, almost ten years later, it is 13%. At the time, in 2012, many consumers were skeptical of organic wines. Much has happened since then. Organic wines are now a must for wine merchants. Those who don’t like a wine no longer think it’s because it’s organic (which some people thought a few years ago).
To learn more about what organic wine is, read this previous article from Forbes: Organic Wine and Biodynamic Wine, What Are They Exactly?
Italy is the leading organic wine country in Europe (and in the world), with more than 16% of its vineyard area certified organic or in conversion. France and Spain have just over 13%. Gérard Bertrand, one of the great organic producers in Languedoc, estimates that 50% of the French vineyard will be organic in 10 years. Does that sound reasonable to you?
I don’t think it’s happening that fast, although there’s a lot to think the pace is kept up. But there are also question marks.
Will consumers in general soon demand organic farming for wines? I do not think so. But it is not inconceivable that they require an environmental commitment on the part of the producers. However, a sustainability certification may be enough for them.
The biggest obstacle to continued advancements in organic labeling may very well be sustainability.
Many countries and wine regions are investing heavily in sustainable certifications. There is certainly a risk (or how you choose to view it) that sustainability labels take “market” share from the organic label. Being sustainable is less strict. Easier in some ways. Growers can continue with synthetic pest spraying and can improve the way they work at their own pace. But it always shows clients that they have a plan for their environmental work.
Organic farming pays. If we look at bulk sales in France, we see much higher prices for organic wines. Today, consumers are prepared to pay more for organic wine. As a result, more and more producers are likely to convert for market reasons. This is a change from the early days when motivation was almost always a belief in “organic is good” (it’s still an important factor). There is nothing wrong with going organic to meet the demand. However, high bulk prices may be due to a shortage of organic wine in some regions, such as Bordeaux. Will prices be maintained if the number of organic wines in the region increases?
The weather plays an important role in the life of all farmers, including winegrowers. Thus, the weather will have its say, at least in the short term. Organic growers are more limited in how they can deal with the effects of inclement weather (especially fungal diseases), so they can be hit harder. If there are several consecutive difficult and rainy years with uncontrollable fungal diseases, those who are considering converting may think again. Those who are in the process of conversion can give up to save their harvest. In wine-growing regions with harsh climates, some winegrowers believe that synthetic spraying is inevitable.
That the climate plays a role is well illustrated in France. Warm and sunny Provence has 24% of its wine-growing area in organic farming, the Rhône Valley and Roussillon 18%. The numbers are much lower in the cooler and rainier northern and Atlantic regions. Bordeaux has only 9%, Champagne 3% and Cognac a meager 1%. But to be fair, these three regions are improving steadily. And the demand for organic cognac has so far been extremely low.
The fact that several synthetic products (to control diseases and pests) are now banned in some countries or across the EU may cause more producers to feel pressured to engage in organic farming. Glyphosate, for example, an active ingredient in many herbicides, is now only authorized in France in limited quantities. Hennessy Cognac, which produces almost half of cognac, will require its grape suppliers to completely abandon synthetic herbicides by 2030.
The rules for the use of synthetic pesticides are increasingly strict. Complaints in France in recent years from vineyard residents have led to new regulations concerning spraying near homes.
Everyone vaporizes something, however. Organic farming is based on the abandonment of all pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. Thus, effective methods are needed to protect the crop with natural mechanisms.
Infusions, decoctions of plants, herbal teas and the like are used, of course, but with limited success. But more and more natural products, often based on microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, are now being introduced to fight pests and diseases. Organic growers are allowed to use a lot (but not all).
If these natural products prove to be effective, more wine producers could switch to organic. Parasites and diseases will not go away. Good alternatives to synthetics are needed and a lot of research is underway.
You can’t totally get rid of the spray. But spraying may be limited and possibly even more in the future. The new fungus resistant grapes (sometimes called PIWI, short for German Pilzwiderständige) are hybrids but with a high percentage of Vitis vinifera in them. This means that they not only have good resistance to certain diseases, but also taste great. In Sweden, England, Canada and some other regions with distinctly cool climates, they are already well established. In addition, Germany and Switzerland use them. But it remains to be seen whether producers and consumers in classic wine regions of France will accept these new grape varieties. Maybe they will end up doing it. But we are not there yet. At present, these grapes are not authorized in French appellation wines. But it is only a matter of time.
Regions where the name of the grape variety plays a less important role lead the way. The Cognac region plans to use resistant grape varieties on a large scale in 2030, resulting in a sharp reduction in spraying. Languedoc takes provisional measures. There is also a lot to do Vitis vinifera Grapes. Bordeaux is experimenting with Portuguese grapes capable of withstanding high heat and drought. Research is underway in Burgundy to combine the traditional grape varieties of the region with better adapted rootstocks and clones.
Has there already been more research, testing and experimentation in the vines? I do not think so.