To set the scene, organic wine is still a relatively small sector: accounting for around 3.6% of global consumption. But with more than 1 billion bottles of organic wine set to be consumed around the world every year by 2022, it's becoming increasingly significant.
Millesime Bio - a trade fair held in the wine heartland of France and devoted to organic wine - has been putting the spotlight on the sector.
A way of life
For wine producers, the interest in organic comes from two directions. To some producers, being organic is a fundamental philosophy of their business and a necessity for the longevity of their land and enterprise. Quality, too, is a key reason: many wineries feel that the quality of their wine is improved by a land free from chemicals.
There’s also the growing sense that the market is demanding organic – and will continue to so more strongly in years to come. This is backed up by figures: in five years, organic wine consumption has almost doubled from 349 million bottles in 2012 to 676 million bottles in 2017.
The EU is by far the largest producer of organic wine, making up some 90% of global wine-growing organic area. Italy, France and Spain are the world’s top wine producers overall; and with a growing focus on organic they make up 79% of organic wine production together. Spain, in particular, has seen the area dedicated to organic vineyards grow 522% over the last ten years.
With the number of winegrowing areas currently in conversion (it takes three years and four vintages to convert) it’s expected that the organic wine offering will further increase in the coming years.
Organic wine ranks top of Wine Intelligence’s SOLA opportunity index [sustainable, organic, lower alcohol], primarily due to the fact that ‘organic’ is generally recognised and understood by consumers (understanding is harder for more niche terms such as ‘biodynamic’ or ‘vegan’).
There’s strong awareness of the term, not only within the trade and with consumers, but also as a knock-on effect from neighbouring F&B categories such as coffee and chocolate.
What is an organic wine?
In the EU, organic production has been regulated since 1991. There are also rules for organic vinification.
In short, wine must be made without the use of chemicals or GMOs, using only natural fertilizers such as green manure or compost, and there are restrictions or bans on certain procedures and additives, and a restriction on the total sulphite level in the finished wine.
For organic wine producers in the EU converting to organic is a long process: it takes three years and four vintages to convert to organic.
However, with a number of winegrowing areas currently in conversion, this suggests the organic wine offering will increase further in the coming years.
In the US, organic wines must follow the same requirements of USDA organic certification as other products, as well as meeting the requirements of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, especially in regards to sulphite labeling. There is a distinction between ‘wine made with organic grapes’ and ‘organic wine’ (which also requires the yeast and other agricultural ingredients to be organic).
Case study: France
France – a country where the organic food sector has really taken off in recent years – is seeing a mirroring boom in the organic wine sector. The turnover for the sector has leaped up, with an increased number of vineyards converting to organic and more sustained demand from consumers both at home and abroad.
“The universe of organic wines is in full expansion and shows no signs of stopping,” says Patrick Guiraud, president of SudVinBio, the French inter-professional association for organic wines in the southerly Occitanie region, and organisers of annual organic wine fair MillesimeBio. "At a global level, more than 1bn bottles will be consumed annually from 2022.
"The French organic wine sector is structured to respond to this demand: and the strong acceleration in conversions over the last three years helps meet demand.”
In 2016, 87 new vineyards turned to organic practices. In 2017, this figure was 572. There are now 5,835 vineyards either certified organic or in conversion.
At the end of 2017, 10% of Frances vineyards were either certified organic or in conversion.
There are 1,778 million hectares, up 15.6% on the previous year. The area of organic vineyards has increased 249% over the last 10 years.
The top producer is the southern Occitanie area: which represents 36.5% of the country’s organic wine area and producing 800,000 hectolitres of wine in 2018.
In a favourable year, organic production can be expected to come in at around 1 million hectolitres. In Corsica, organic vineyards are an integral part of the industry: making up more than 30% of the total area.
Organic wineries create, on average, 1.5x more jobs than their non-organic counterparts. Skilled workers make up 18% of the workforce, compared to 12% in conventional wineries.