Monday, 28 August 2017 14:52

Organic wine – a hard sell?

Written by  Tessa Nicholson
Jamie Goode. Jamie Goode.

While more and more New Zealand wine producers are moving towards organics, there appears to have been a distinct lack of consumer buy-in.

Why is one of the questions that was brought up numerous times during the recent Organic and Biodynamic Winegrowing Conference.

With well over 370 people attending events over the three days in Marlborough, the support for both forms of wine production is obviously held dear by many. Yet the flow on effect seems to be stymied.

What makes it even more frustrating is the rise in sales of organic food and produce. Why is it that people will willingly pay more for an organic capsicum, yet not even consider purchasing a bottle of organic wine?

British writer Jamie Goode told the conference that could be because there’s no marketing or PR campaign that explains the obvious benefits.

“There is no obvious factory farmed versus free range example when it comes to wine. You can walk down the chicken aisle or past the eggs and see examples of free range or organic. People will pay more for those than they will for the factory farmed stuff. But you don’t seem to have that easy mental jump in wine.”

The fact that wine is an alcoholic beverage may also play a role. For those that choose organic food items as a lifestyle choice, may not be keen on purchasing any form of alcohol regardless of whether or not it is organically produced.

All very good points to be taken into consideration. However, it doesn’t explain why organic and biodynamic wines languish behind the natural wine movement, which is becoming increasingly popular.

“The natural wine movement has broken through into the conception of many consumers, in a way that organic and biodynamic hasn’t,” Goode said. “It has managed to establish a very interesting niche.”

In London alone there are 15 natural wine bars, he said. In Paris there are dozens. Two natural wine fairs are held in London every year and these attract scores of people, who Goode said are curious about the wines.

“A lot of my colleagues, the old school guys, really hate natural wine. They call them faulty, terrible wines. But what I see is people curious about the flavour. It is fascinating to see so many people engaging with these wines.”

New Zealand wine writer Yvonne Lorkin said there is also a taste consideration that consumers don’t seem to be able to get past. Rightly or wrongly, she said, many consumers are reluctant to spend money on a product they “feel” may not taste as good as a wine that is produced conventionally.

After questioning dozens of people on their attitude to organic wines, Lorkin set up a social media survey. She asked people to answer four questions, with a yes, no or not sure answer. The questions were;

Does knowing that a wine is produced organically make you more likely to buy that wine over another bottle whose production methods aren’t clear?

Do you seek out organically made wines specifically?

Does buying an organically made wine make a difference to how you appreciate it?

Is your attitude to organically made wines more positive today than ever before?

While this was not a scientific survey, the results did raise some interesting points. To question one, 58% said yes they were more likely to buy a wine knowing it was organically produced. 36% said no and 6% said not sure.

The next question showed 80% of people do not seek out organic wines.

Forty-two percent of people said buying an organically made wine made a difference to how they appreciated it, while 36% said it didn’t. And finally, 83% said their attitude to organically made wine was more positive today.

“The over-riding comment in my survey was; if it tastes great, I don’t care how it’s made. What was also overwhelmingly obvious was the majority of respondents didn’t go out of their way to buy organic wine,” Lorkin said.

That doesn’t surprise her, given it can be extremely difficult to find organic wines. Unlike lower alcohol wines, supermarkets don’t tend to have a special organic or biodynamic category. Plus many wines have no clear indication they are organic or biodynamic. How are people to know what to look for?

So how do organic and biodynamic producers change the consumer mind set? How do they become the choice option for the mainstream consumer?

Raise your profile for one thing Lorkin said. While there are plenty of column inches in mainstream media on the benefits of organic produce, like meat and fruit, there is very little about organic wine.

“They are out there aggressively promoting they are organic. They are spending money on promotion and PR to get their messages out to consumers.”

Money has to be spent to be earned she said. Producers should be telling their stories to ensure consumers are totally aware of the differences between organic and non-organic wines.

“Get rocking on your social media post. Spend a little bit of money to boost your post, at least $250 a month on Facebook. It is the only way you will get your followers up in such a crowded environment.”

Never let a chance go by to have your wine tasted. Given the number of comments about taste during her discussions, Lorkin said it was vital to get your wines in front of the mainstream consumer. Not at festivals such as Budburst or Rootstock, “as there you are preaching to the converted”.

“From the feedback I received from the members of the public, the one thing holding them back from automatically reaching for an organic wine, is how is it going to taste? They don’t know and they are confused by it.”

Maybe now is the time to start lobbying for an organic section in supermarkets – especially given how much wine is sold thru this medium. And one final word from Lorkin came to her from an acquaintance;

“Organics overall needs to have a facelift. Get away from the hippy and into the hipster.”

Goode reiterated that last comment when he offered advice to the organic and biodynamic wine producers, stating they need to undo the negative characterization, of biodynamics in particular.

“I was telling people I was coming to this conference and some of my wine friends said; ‘oh you are going to the hippy conference’. This is the wrong image. It would be good to bring the language back to a level that is inclusive of others, that people can understand. And (a language) that doesn’t exclude people because it is esoteric.”

Given what he had to say about the natural wine movement, Goode said the message being delivered by organic producers tends to focus too much on what happens in the vineyard. Whereas natural wine producers tend to focus on what happens in the winery.

“If you are just thinking about what happens in the vineyard, it is a much harder story to communicate.”

Stories are key he said, but they need to be strategic and clearly thought out.

“I think the organic and biodynamic community need to take a really collaborative approach, one that is coordinated very skillfully. One that is not a piecemeal approach. You need to know who to communicate with, what words to use, what terms to use, what strategy to take in order to communicate clearly.”

Award winning organic wines

Following hard on the heels of the Organic and Biodynamic Winegrowing conference, there was some good news for Babich Family Estates and two other Marlborough producers.

In the Organic Masters, a competition created and run by The drinks business, Babich picked up three top awards; Master for the 2016 Headwaters Organic Chardonnay, a Gold for the 2015 Headwater Organic Pinot Noir and a Silver for the 2016 Headwaters Organic Sauvignon Blanc.

Nutcracker Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough won a silver and Kings Bay also from Marlborough won a silver.

 

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