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Organic wines attract interest: green wines may tip sales higher during tough economy.


In difficult economic times, a bright spot for on- and off-premise operators could well be wine sales, which continue to increase, especially for the continually popular and growing category of organic wines.

Wine sales increased 1.1 percent in 2008 over 2007, according to The Beverage Information Group, Cheers, Beverage Dynamics and State Ways' parent company. During a similar timeframe organic table wine sales grew 3.7 percent over the past year, ending September 19, 2009, according to The Nielsen Company. These increases indicate a promising way for operators to maximize wine sales as organic wines are outpacing regular table wine by nearly four times.

Thanks to greater product availability and consumer interest, demand for organic wines is on the rise, observes Darrin Siegfried, president and education director of the New York City-based, more than 50-year-old Sommelier Society of America, and operating partner of Red, White & Bubbly, a wine and spirits store in Brooklyn, New York.

The increasing interest in organic wine is apparent in New York City, according to Siegfreid, who named a half a dozen wine bars in Manhattan that emphasize biodynamic wines as an important subset of the organic group--including three establishments in which noted sommelier Paul Grieco, is involved: Italian restaurants Hearth and Insieme in New York City, plus the Terroir wine bar in the East Village area of New York.

Last month Woodland Hills, Calif.-based Fleming's Prime Steakhouse began labeling the organic and sustainable wines on its extensive wine list. Of the 100 wines offered by the glass, 45 selections fall into this broad group and 20 of these are organic. "We're finding that the winemakers who use these methods are dedicated," says Frank Kliegel, manager and wine director

Presenting a selection of organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines is also a priority at Flemings, according to the chain's director of wine, Marian Jansen op de Haar, according to Kliegel.

Organic wine production falls largely into three categories of practices: sustainable, organic and biodynamic. Organic wines are tightly regulated under both domestic and international standards. Biodynamic operations are certified by the biodynamic certifying organization Demeter and sustainable practices can be certified to a certain extent by third parties but remain largely unregulated. The method of production and quality of wines varies under each category. Organic grapes do not necessarily produce organic wines and in order to be certified under the USDA's National Organic Program, may not contain added sulfites, an antioxidant used and generated naturally in the wine making process.

The Wilshire, a restaurant featuring urban cuisine in Santa Monica, promotes organic food, as well as wine and spirits because "it's the right thing to do," said Nick Fielding, general manager. "We feel it's important to support local growers, which has become increasingly important to our customers," he said. The Wilshire's 21-page wine list features a number of organic wines such as a Topanga 2005 Skyline Vineyards Respite Cabernet Sauvignon for $103.


"Awareness and consumption of organically produced wines continues to increase among core organic consumers and more importantly, among mainstream premium wine consumers as well," according to JohnTichenor, the brand manager for Bonterra Vineyards, an organic brand produced by the Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corporation. According to BIG, the brand saw a 17.5 percent sales increase in 2008.

Organic and sustainable remain two of the hottest wine categories, according to Tichenor. Many wine stores with tasting bars are featuring organic flights and many restaurants are adding organic or green sections to wine lists, such as Moonshadows a contemporary lounge in Malibu, California.

While the organic wine supply has been limited in the past due to agricultural complexities and other factors, the supply is now increasing both domestically and internationally.

Peter Neptune MS, DWS, CWE and senior vice president, corporate training and wine education for The HenryWine Group a Benicia, Calif.-based wine distributor, says interest in organic wines is growing in both the on- and off-premise sectors.

It's become such an important sales factor that Henry Wine now features a list of organic, sustainable and biodynamic domestic and imported wines near the front of its catalog, along with the types of certification they have received. Some of its certified brands include ZD Wines, Zaca Mesa, Rutherford, Robert Sinskey, Ceago Vinegarden, Keller Estate, Benton Lane and Firesteed Cellars.

Grgich Hills Estate winery switched to biodynamic production in 2003 and became 100 percent certified in 2006 by Demeter USA. "We believe the wines we produce now are more alive, with more flavor and will age better," said Ken Morris, communications and marketing manager for Grgich Hills. "We've found customers are more and more interested in where their food and wines come from and what's in them," he says.

"We're finding now that a holistic approach allows winemakers to truly express the terroir, that unique spot on the Earth that gives the wine its flavor," according to Siegfried said. Additionally, this approach is making better tasting wines that have a greater ability to age, he said.

"Dealing with these categories is confusing for the buyer and the consumer," said Ira Norof, CWE, and director of education for wholesaler Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada. Norof said he is attempting to identify and label organic, sustainable, biodynamic and green offerings in his company's catalog. SWS's selections include Herzog, Parducci, Candoni, Mionetto, Momokawa sake, a selection of the Red Truck wines, Sterling, Cuna from Argentina, Cecchi Chianti Arcano, Natura from Chile, many selections from Cline Cellars and Naked Wines from Snoqualmie Winery.


The labeling term, "made from organically grown grapes," is a designation available to producers who farm or purchase grapes grown on organically certified land, a complex process that takes several years to meet the various certification standards.

A winery's bottling plant's handling and processing operations must also be certified, according to the Washington D.C.-based National Organic Program (NOP) regulations. Only wineries certified under the USDA rules may identify their wines as organic.

Sustainable and biodynamic winegrowing is practiced by many California producers and grape growers. It is a structured program of best practices for wine from the ground to the glass, involving not only many organic grape growing techniques, but the preservation of wildlife habitat and water, soil and air quality. Many biodynamic producers even work with the rhythms of the sun and moon to create biodynamic balance and diversity in the vineyard.


Much of Europe has already embraced organic or biodynamic practices in its vineyards, with France leading the charge, according to an EU Commission working document on organic wine. ORWINE a three-year old project funded by the European Union is finalizing standards for EU rules on organic wine by 2010. Joseph Drouhin, a major producer in Burgundy, is slated to complete the transition of its vineyards to organic practices and production by 2010.

Organic farming and ecology issues are important to Amy Louise Pommier, manager of the Prospect Wine Shop in Brooklyn. "And fortunately I have the medium of wine to spread the word." She stocks her store with 80 to 100 organic vintages.

From an off-premise perspective, organic distribution is also growing, and retailers are creating organic sections in their stores. Whole Foods has an organic section subdivided into "organics" and "organics with no sulfites added." Noted retailer Trader Joe's uses shelf talkers to identify organic and green wines among its wide selection of wine choices for its customers. The Concord-California based, close to 100-location Beverages and More! has also started to promote the sustainable wines that it carries.

A number of Henry's Markets, based in San Diego with 28 markets in Southern California and Arizona, have come online in the past year to accentuate the organic or green wines dominating their wine departments. Retail giant Safeway has also been showcasing organic and green wines in the organic produce section of many of its stores since November of last year. Safeway is also testing a two-foot, organic wine section in two of its locations. In the current economy, many producers that would qualify as organic often find it too costly to pay the extensive fees needed for certification, notes Chris Whitcraft, winemaker and owner of the Santa Barbara-based Whitcrafr Winery. His winery has always practiced organic methods, he notes.

Another factor that the international market has learned is that consumers prefer labels that are easy to understand and convey the basic tenets of organic wine production. Several associations and producers have used eye-catching graphics to suggest the eco-friendly qualities of the wine, such as hummingbirds, ladybugs, bees and other elements of nature.

Providing on- and off-premise operators with greater information and selection of organic wines is only likely to continue to benefit their customers and the market at large. Taking inspiration from other organic products that led the category years ago, this particular wine category is only likely to continue to expand.
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Author:Baisley, Sarah
Publication:Beverage Dynamics
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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