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Sustainable wine – from niche to necessity

Climate change threatens wine production so let’s talk about less and better drinks. By David Burrows.

Back to the booze. Thank goodness that is over. I am of course talking about ‘dry January’ and the veganista-like gloating that belches from those who decide not to drink alcohol for four weeks. And then resort to February bingeing. I am not saying drink with careless abandon – far from it – but why not just drink less but better? 

Greener grapes. Wine sales are stagnant but organic wine has reportedly been growing in volume, value and range. “On average it costs £2-£3 more on a supermarket shelf for a bottle of organic prosecco than for a standard one,” explained Alex Green from UK-based distributor Beyond Wines in a piece for BeverageDaily last year, “but sales figures suggest that consumers are willing to bridge that gap.” At least in some countries they are: an impressive 36% of French people drink organic wine.

Young at the heart. The good news for wine producers is that it’s younger consumers that are most intrigued by the prospect of organic wine. Ipsos surveyed 3,000 people across France, the UK and Germany in 2022 and found that 46% of under-35s have already consumed organic wine; for over 55s the figure was 38%. The average consumer profile is a young, urban, high-income graduate. 

Better beverages. Organic wine certainly fits with a ‘less and better’ approach to wine consumption. 

Younger consumers appear to place environmental concerns at the top of their decision-making process when they plump for an organic tipple. Reducing pesticide use can of course have considerable benefits for biodiversity, and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions (though organic production, it must be noted, can have higher emissions overall than more intensive approaches, but let’s not go there now).

Regeneration game. Organic isn’t the only ‘sustainable’ wine in town of course. Biodynamic wine appears to offer benefits over organic, according to some research, for example, though remains (very) niche. Meanwhile, the concept of regenerative production has swept across the agri-food landscape – offering plenty of potential both in terms of both greener production and greenwashing. 

In vino veritas? Reports suggest there are a growing number of wine producers using the term ‘regenerative’ without certification. “Without a structure or a legal definition, then anybody can use it… it’s the Wild West for regenerative right now,” noted Jess Baum from Bonterra Organic Estates this month in an interview with The Drinks Business. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK permits organic products to use the term regenerative – which not everyone is happy about

Unhappy hour. It is hard to find cheer in the farming community currently. Protests have dominated the early weeks of the year, challenging policies designed to shift everyone towards more sustainable production. Climate change can be both friend and foe to wine producersEarly frost, heavy rainfall and drought is expected to lead to a 7% drop in production for 2023 compared to the already below-average volume in 2022, says the International Organisation of Wine and Vine. Yet warm summers and wet winters – which are increasingly frequent thanks to climate change – can also deliver better wines, according to research involving Bordeaux wines by the University of Oxford. Mind you, growers in Champagne are reportedly buying up land in England to make their wine because France will become too warm.

Drink up. Whether there be enough wine to go around is worrying the wine industry. Beer giants are already preparing us for less lager in the face of a changing climate. Coffee will also likely be harder to grow. “Our ability to pass down the quality of life that we have enjoyed is at severe risk,” said former White House chef and political advisor Sam Kass as he served his latest “last supper” in January. So if there is less wine, surely it makes sense for it to be the better stuff?

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