Organic wine sales in the United by xps54377


									1/08 MEININGER’S WBI


                                          THE ORGANIC GROWTH
                                          OF BIODYNAMIC WINES
                       The American wine market, a world of critter brands, organic certification
                       and appellation wines, is already confusing enough to the average consumer.
                       But the emerging biodynamic category may manage to achieve the sales that
                       organic wines haven’t, suggests Larry Walker.

                             rganic wine sales in the United                                                       Benziger first introduced a bio-

                       O     States have never hit the pace
                             that many expected. While organic
                       food sales in general are growing
                                                                                                                dynamic (BD) wine in 2002. At the
                                                                                                                time, it was a small part of the winery’s
                                                                                                                production. “We soon realized that the
                       at a 20% plus annual rate, organic wine                                                  trade and the public demanded that we
                       sales have lagged. So it is a little                                                     go all the way. We started working
                       surprising to find some optimism                                                         with growers and put a program in
                       by producers of biodynamic wines,                                                        place in 2003. For the first time in
                       a category that would seem even more                                                     2007, all of our grapes were certified
                       difficult to establish. However, parti-                                                  biodynamic or organic or sustainable.”
                       cipants and speakers at a Biodynamic                                                        But how does a BD wine differ from
                       Wine Forum held in San Francisco last                                                    an organic wine? The easy answer is
                       November were cautiously upbeat.                                                         that BD wines are a step beyond organic.
                       Mike Benziger, of Benziger Family                                                        Both kinds of producers reject the use
                       Vineyards, said 2007 was the ‘tipping                                                    of chemical fertilizers, pesticides,
                       point’ for biodynamic wines.
                          “Biodynamic wines are perceived by
                       the trade as very high quality wines on
                       a global level. Retailers and restaurants
                                                                   »    Biodynamic wines are not
                                                                   a rich man’s game, but a
                                                                                                                herbicides, fungicides or fumigants.
                                                                                                                No hormones, antibiotics, growth
                                                                                                                regulators or genetically modified
                                                                                                                organisms can be used, the same as
                       are getting behind the wines in a big
                       way. However, they are a hand sell,” he
                       said. “We have found that retailers
                                                                   committed farmer’s game.
                                                                          Paul Dolan, winemaker
                                                                                                   «            with organic growers.
                                                                                                                   All clear so far, but when you get into
                                                                                                                biodynamics, it becomes difficult if not
                       who are out on the floor selling the                                                     impossible to offer a brief definition.
                       wines are a big help.” That, though,        the United States, a wine with sulfite       Privately, some producers agree that
                       can be said about all wines. More to        added cannot be labeled as fully organic.    consumer confusion is only natural
                       the point, he continued that “those         Instead, the label may only bear the         when biodynamic viticulture involves
                       restaurants that feature fresh local        mention that the wine is made from           farming practices that seem downright
                       produce and really care about the food      organically grown grapes. Wines made         weird (see box for more information).
                       can be a huge help. They get what we        without the addition of sulfites have        An international organization called
                       are trying to do.”                          often been of uneven quality, especially     Demeter is the major certifying agency
                          Benziger added, “To be honest,           in the 1980s and early 1990s, when           for biodynamic agriculture.
                       consumers are still somewhat                many domestic winemakers were still             Although there is plenty of paper-
                       confused by the nomenclature, what is       learning to deal with the issue.             work, certification is not just a matter
                       biodynamic, what is organic, but they          Benziger agreed that the image of         of filling in a few forms. It involves
                       are very sensitive now to environmental     organic wines has been hurt by the           a three year program following guide-
                       issues and biodynamic wines are seen        quality of some wines. “With bio-            lines related to cover crops, crop rota-
                       as a holistic and friendly approach to      dynamic, however, we’ve got a chance         tion and the protection and creation of
                       the earth.”                                 to do it right and let the wine speak for    wild spaces on the farm, as well as the
                          There is also some confusion over        itself,” he said. “If you lose credibility   use of certain biodynamic preparations.
                       the definition of an organic wine. In       in dealing with environmental issues,           The concept of biodynamic agriculture
                       Europe, producers are allowed to add        like organic wines or biodynamic             dates back to 1924 and comes from
                       sulfites to wine to enhance stability. In   wines, it’s very difficult to recover it.”   the work of Austrian philosopher

                                                                                                        ORGANIC FARMING

Rudolph Steiner. Demeter defines a            SNAP DEFINITIONS
biodynamic farm as one that is
managed “as a living organism.” This          Biodynamic
is not a very useful definition, as there     • Create diversity on the farm, not monoculture.
are certainly conventional growers            • Have a crop rotation program, between the vine rows and orchards.
who take very good care of their vines        • Utilize the nine preparations which biodynamic followers believe enhance soil quality
as well. Beyond that, one must then set         and stimulate plant life. They consist of mineral, plant, or animal manure extracts,
about defining the farm as a ‘living            usually fermented and applied in small proportions to compost, manures, the soil, or
organism.’ It is, as a critic suggested, a      directly onto plants, after dilution. They are numbered 500-508. The 500 preparation
definition that could equally well be           (horn-manure) is made from cow manure (fermented in a cow horn that is buried in the
applied to the entire known universe.           soil for six months through autumn and winter) and is used as a soil spray to stimulate
   Confront the average wine consumer           root growth and humus formation. The BD 501 preparation (horn-silica) is made from
with that definition and he or she              powdered quartz, packed inside a cow horn and buried in the soil for six months
might well respond “That’s great. But           through spring and summer, and applied as a foliar spray to stimulate and regulate
what does it have to do with the wine           growth. The next six preparations, BD 502-507, are used in making compost, and
in the bottle?”                                 include plant materials such as yarrow blossom, chamomile blossoms, stinging nettle,
   Jim Fetzer, a member of the family           oak bark, dandelion flowers and valerian flowers. Preparation 508 is made from the
that has pioneered both organics and            horsetail plant and is used as a spray to suppress fungal disease.
biodynamics in California, was able           • Incorporate animal life into the farm for food, pest and weed control. This can be done
to offer a little help. Fetzer is the           by allowing chickens, for example, to range through the vineyards or having other
founder of Ceago Vinegarden in Lake             barnyard animals on the farm and using their manure in the compost. Some farms turn
County in northern California, which            sheep loose in the vineyards in winter.
he established after the Fetzer family        • Work with the ‘forces of nature’, be they solar, lunar or cosmic, in timing viticultural
winery was sold to Brown-Forman.                practices. Biodynamic producers are sensitive to charges of ‘witchcraft’ and voodoo
He briefly defined the basic principles         science in regards to some of these practices, such as farming by a lunar calendar and
of biodynamic viticulture (see ‘snap            burying a cow horn containing composted cow manure in the soil. Paul Dolan and
definitions’), then brought the concept         others say it is time to ‘get beyond’ this when it comes to selling the wines. However,
into the modern wine market: “With              such practices loom large in the biodynamic story (but not in the organic story) and
biodynamics, we show the authentic              certainly make good copy. If pressed, most growers fall back on the formula: “I don’t
expression of terroir opposed to the            know how it works, but it does,” and point to the general health of the vines and the
synthetic expression of conventional            grapes. This, of course, is not going to satisfy the skeptic, nor should it. It seems that,
wines.” Without getting into a discussion       like it or not, growers who choose the biodynamic system are simply going to have to
of what is an ‘authentic’ expression of         grin and bear it.
terroir - can there be an ‘inauthentic’
expression of terroir? - critics of the
                                              • No chemically synthesized fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides,
biodynamic approach claim with some
                                                or fumigants
justification that such wines cannot be
                                              • No hormones, antibiotics, growth regulators or genetically modified
identified in a blind tasting.
                                                organisms (GMOs)
Who drinks biodynamic wine?
   The wine consumer familiar with               Is there a direct impact on sales             believed that wine consumers are
the concept of terroir is likely a good      because a wine is organic or bio-dynamic?         interested in the biodynamic story.
potential customer for biodynamic            “There are niche markets where organic            “They don’t know quite what to make
wines, when given Jim Fetzer’s               and biodynamic wines are going to do              of it, but they do get caught up in the
definition. Today’s savvy wine drinkers      better and those are the markets we tar-          passion of biodynamics. Getting the
like to hear a story, and the story of       get. The wine has to be good to begin             word out is real pick and shovel. It’s
terroir is a popular one. “A true bio-       with and competitive with conventional            going out and telling the story to one
dynamic farm with all its diversity of       wines so if the consumer is looking for a         person at a time. And, it’s true, the
plant and animal life makes for an           less manipulated, sustainable product,            biodynamic story is much more
attractive and interesting story which       then these wines can fit the bill,”               complicated than the organic story.”
is what the press is looking for,            Fetzer answered.                                     Dolan, who now has his own line of
especially outside the wine press. It is        Paul Dolan, who was the winemaker              biodynamic and organic wines, Paul
another way of reaching the consumer         at Fetzer Vineyards for many years,               Dolan Wines, based in Mendocino
and hopefully educates them and leads        working with both the Fetzer family               County, is hardly a counter-culture
them to our product,” Fetzer said.           and with Brown-Forman, said he                    poster boy. The current president


                        MARKETS                                                                                         ORGANIC FARMING

                       of the Wine Institute of California, he                                                  important as a kind of ‘seal of authority’
                       is a businessman who knows that he                                                       for consumers.
                       has to make a buck, but he also cares                                                       But in the end, the best ‘seal of
                       deeply about environmental issues.                                                       authority’ is the wine itself. Randall
                       “You have to be passionate to pull                                                       Grahm, no stranger to wine crusades,
                       people in. The great thing about bio-                                                    believes that biodynamic wines are the
                       dynamics is that you start operating in                                                  best way to represent terroir. At this
                       a different way. Biodynamics is not                                                      point, he is betting the farm on bio-
                       about technology. It’s about expanding                                                   dynamics, having sold his mass
                       our awareness of the land, about creating                                                market Big House label to Constellation
                       a whole new view. I’ve learned that my                                                   Brands in order to concentrate on bio-
                       role is to listen to the land.”                                                          dynamic wines. Asked for his definition
                                                                                                                of terroir, he answered, “Terroir is the
                       Biodynamics as marketing tool
                                                                                                                ability of a site to solve its problems
                          The passion that Dolan, and others,                                                   and produce a wine that captures the
                       talked about might be hard to define
                       as a marketing tool, but it plays well
                       with today’s green consumer. Patti
                       Fetzer is Jim Fetzer’s sister and part
                                                                     »    People are very sensitive
                                                                     to environmental issues and
                                                                                                                place. Wine is a life force.”
                                                                                                                   Grahm believes that biodynamic
                                                                                                                wines offer a chance to “have a different
                                                                                                                conversation about wine, not just talk
                       of the family that founded Fetzer                                                        about points.”
                                                                     biodynamic wines are perceived
                       Vineyards in the 1960s. She sees
                       Patianna Vineyards, her biodynamic
                       vineyard and winery in Mendocino
                       County, as simply a logical develop-
                                                                     as pro-environment.    «
                                                                           Mike Benziger, winemaker
                                                                                                                   The question is, will consumers
                                                                                                                want to participate in that ‘different
                                                                                                                conversation’? Or will they stick to
                                                                                                                conventional wine chatter?              I
                       ment of the organic movement of the
                       1960s and 1970s in California.                yard. Also, year to year costs vary          BY THE NUMBERS
                          “It all goes back to your beliefs. It is   depending on whether growers make
                                                                                                                  The Organic Trade Association
                       simply the right thing to do,” she said,      their own sprays and compost or buy
                                                                                                                  (OTA) estimates that organic food
                       referring to biodynamic farming. “I           specially prepared organic and biody-
                                                                                                                  sales totaled $16.9b (€11.5b) in
                       think that because we feel strongly           namic products (see box).
                                                                                                                  2006, the last year for which com-
                       about biodynamics, it inspires the               Mike Benziger pointed out that
                                                                                                                  plete figures are available. That
                       growers and the producers as well as          many of the labor intensive viticultur-      represents about 3% of all retail
                       the distributors.”                            al techniques, such as canopy manage-        food and beverage sales and shows
                          One question that keeps coming up          ment, leaf pulling and weed control          a growth rate of 22.1% over 2005.
                       is the issue of cost: organic and bio-        add to farming costs but are also            Organic wine sales are growing at a
                       dynamic wines do cost more than               used in conventional grape growing,          slower pace. (The OTA does not
                       conventional wines. Or do they?               at least by growers who are intent           distinguish between organic wines
                          Dolan and others argue that the            on producing a superior crop. In             and wines made from organic
                       retail price of organic or biodynamic         short, this means that most organic          grapes.) According to OTA numbers,
                       wines is in line with the price of equal      wines are priced in relation to wine         organic wine sales were about
                       quality wines grown by conventional           quality based on superior vineyards          $90m in 2006, a 13% increase over
                       farming practices. “We don’t charge           and intensive labor.                         the $80m recorded in 2005. Sales
                       more for our wines because they are              In the end, the only additional costs     are expected to reach $100m for
                       organic,” Dolan said. “We set the price       incurred to farm organically or bio-         2007. Total US wine sales in 2007
                       based on the quality of the wine.”            dynamically are those of certification,      are expected to top $28b.
                       Indeed, Dolan prices his biodynamic           which are based on a per acre charge
                                                                                                                  By 2007, California Certified Organic
                       wines in the $30s (€20), hardly expen-        and can vary. Certification for both
                                                                                                                  Farmers (CCOF) had certified 9,240
                       sive when matched against run-of-the-         organic and biodynamic production
                                                                                                                  acres of organic vineyards in
                       press Napa or Sonoma Chardonnay               must be done every year. This involves
                                                                                                                  California, out of a total of more than
                       selling in the $40s and $50s.                 soil testing for traces of chemical
                                                                                                                  550,000 acres. (Organic acreage
                          Jim Fetzer said the initial cost of        fertilizers or pesticides, checking          outside California is insignificant.)
                       starting to farm organically or bio-          records for application of compost and       There are an estimated 1,500 acres
                       dynamically might range between 10%           other preparations and checking the          of biodynamic vineyards, either
                       and 20% more than conventional farming        overall health of the vineyards. Most        certified or in transition.
                       but that would depend on the vine-            producers believe the certification is


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