Long read: Organic wine, the climate crisis and what it means for brand identity


Through Rowena curlewis

Posted: 04 November 2021

As COP26 emphasizes the urgency to act on the climate crisis, Denomination CEO Rowena Curlewis highlights the need for producers to embed change into their business strategies and examines what it means for the packaging and identity.

The arguments in favor of organic wine are growing, but will producers and consumers stick to their guns when the stakes are high? A new report from the OIV was published last week, showing that 63 countries in the world now have at least 1000 ha of vineyards under organic management and that there is currently a high growth rate of 8% of vineyards in biological conversion. This same report indicates that the organic trend is expected to fluctuate, with movement “both upward and downward, as converting a vineyard to organic cultivation is often complex and requires considerable adaptation”.

The wine industry has a responsibility to implement organic strategies in its viticulture and winemaking processes, and companies and brands need to stand firm and stick to the ground to make these changes. The arguments in favor of the switch to organic should not be motivated by a trend, but rather as a need to protect the environment and reduce the carbon footprint of the industry. This need is reflected first of all in the current climate changes which, as we saw last year, have had a considerable impact on wine production.

Take the example of wine production in Bordeaux and Burgundy, where winemakers have been harvesting the same grapes for generations – spring frosts and summer rains drastically impacting viticulture affect products, fundamentally altering the quality and taste of wine in the vineyard. these regions. This is a huge challenge for winegrowers whose products are defined by their origins and traditions, not to mention the consumer market for these wines. With climate change affecting crop yields so dramatically, it’s tempting for companies to put aside their goal of becoming climate neutral and certified organic.

But if you don’t make climate change part of your strategy as a wine producer, you’re about to wake up to a rude awakening. Wine is an industry that is totally dependent on the climate – water to grow grapes, sun to ripen them, cold to kill pests during the winter. The alerts to the climate crisis are multiplying and signal the lack of biodiversity – key to the self-regulating ecosystem of a vineyard. Maintaining a healthy relationship with the environment is not only essential for the planet, but also for the sustainability of companies that rely on a climate consistent with their way of producing wine.

Organic is the way to go, and winegrowers should be looking at how to couple this with other carbon reduction measures in the vineyard. The transition to low-carbon viticulture can be done quickly on the organic path. What does this mean in practice? No more bushes or hedges for biodiversity, planting weeds and wildflowers (without removing them) including ponds and other shallow water bodies filled with aquatic plants in vineyard design. All of this contributes to carbon sequestration as well as increased biodiversity, ultimately leading to a lower carbon footprint per bottle.

The production of organic wine is an industry’s responsibility towards the environment. The global changes we are already seeing will only increase in urgency and wine producers will be forced to adapt to these climate changes. Wine growers will also need to prepare for changes in government regulations which, due to the pace of the climate crisis, will become stricter and more restrictive on the industry in the years to come.

The wine industry faces far greater financial difficulties if businesses don’t – if climate change isn’t at the heart of your business, your vines aren’t – it’s that simple .

Organic wine

Standards as to what constitutes “organic” vary from country to country. To be labeled certified organic, you must certify by a third party that the grapes used in the production of wine are 100% organic and free of chemicals. The differences between the different certification bodies often boil down to the number of sulphites that can be added to the wine. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture barely allows the use of sulphites while the EU allows up to 100 parts per million sulphites.

Rather than seeing these regulations as a barrier to wine production and trade, these restrictions can encourage innovation and experimentation in winemaking. With sustainability as a goal for companies in this industry, winegrowers will need to be more flexible in their growing and production processes. This will help wine growers prepare for a future where switching to organic might be a necessity for everyone.

Packaging and identification of organic wine

The difference in regulations for organic wine certification can be confusing, especially from a consumer perspective. This demonstrates the need for clear packaging and brand identity. A vineyard that uses organic products or agricultural techniques may not have the seal of approval from the governing body, but may still market the wine as being made from “organically grown grapes”. These nuances can be difficult to grasp and make it difficult for a consumer to make conscious buying decisions and enter the market with confidence.

The organic market swelled dramatically during the pandemic as people drank more premium wine due to the desire to improve health, quality of life and the environment.

However, in order to continue this trend, winemakers will need to market organic in a way that reaches a broader consumer base, which goes beyond its niche. It requires brand clarity and education. It is also differentiating itself from “biodynamic” and “natural” wines. The more transparency there is around these terms and behind the wine production processes, the more people will trust these brands, thus cultivating the desire to buy organic.

Trust is key and unfortunately there has been a fair amount of greenwashing which can be off-putting and damage the organic market. Winegrowers who elude their consumers and are not transparent will suffer more in the long run.

Increase awareness

The denomination has seen a significant increase in the number of organic brands we create. Recognizing the shift in consumer buying behaviors and attitudes, combined with retailers around the world committing to organic and climate-positive brands, organic memories are pouring in. From No Evil, Barefoot, Il Villagio and Farm Hand, to Spain’s latest El Cuidador, launched in September. The name El Cuidador, which means caregiver or keeper, speaks of the attitudes behind organic viticulture.

Brands shouldn’t just be talking about their green story, they should be walking all over the place. The use of green credentials, but also the implementation of real actions, will attract more consumers and, in turn, put more pressure on other wineries to improve their game as well. This can only be positive, for our industry and for the world.

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