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   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 230, Summer 2023   
Organic Vineyards of France: an Unexpected DeclineOrganic Vineyards of France: an Unexpected Decline  Contents 
Issue 229, June 2023 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 231, September 2023

Organic Vineyards of France: an Unexpected Decline


 The cultivation of a vineyard or any other type of crop is dictated by the ethical and ideological sense of the farmer, adopting the method he or she believes to be the most suitable one for his or her own vision and coherent with the personal idea of the environment – last but not least – capable of allowing the production of healthy food or beverages for consumers, while ensuring profit. Anyone who cultivates land using organic farming therefore believes they are acting according to healthier criteria, both for the environment and for the consumer. To achieve this goal, shared and defined protocols are followed – either one's own, according to the personal vision or that of an association or controlling institution – generally limiting or excluding the use of substances which are considered unhealthy and harmful to man and the environment. Adopting the cultivation according to organic farming does not mean giving up the use of chemical products; rather make use of substances, even chemicals, which are considered respectful and healthy, especially within certain formulations and quantities.


 

 It is not my intention – of course – to specifically deal with the purpose and effects, including negative ones, of the chemical substances used in viticulture, whether conventional or organic. Nor is it my intention to try to support or denigrate one or the other cultural philosophy, as, very often, there is the risk of causing useless ideological and thought clashes. What I can instead testify – in about thirty years spent in the world of wine, also by tasting, by now, several tens of thousands of glasses – is that organic viticulture has followed exactly the cycle of any other “fad” about wine. As such, it had an explosive start – and I'm talking about the mid-1990s – followed by a relative “stasis”, therefore falling within the consensus of consumers, producers included, then going back up again with a decisive impetus, finally returning to the “equilibrium” phase. All of this – like any other fad – has also created supporters and opponents of organic wine (and not only that), both in consumers and producers.

 By considering what is happening across the Alps – in France – organic viticulture is perhaps going through a new period of “indifference”. According to the data released by Agence Bio – the French agency for the development and promotion of organic farming – in the document “Les chiffres du Bio Panorama 2O22” (The figures of the Bio panorama 2022), the last year in France there was a marked drop in the number of vineyards registered for conversion to organic farming compared to 2021. In fact, 2022 saw a sudden drop in the conversion of French vineyards to organic farming, after a long period of growth which seemed to be unstoppable. Data released by Agence Bio indicate that, in 2022, only 13,000 hectares of vineyards were registered for conversion to organic farming. A drop that marks -48% compared to 2021, when 24,800 hectares of vineyards were registered instead.

 Despite the decrease in registrations in 2022 compared to 2021, the total area of vineyards cultivated with organic farming has however increased by 5%. According to what was released by Agence Bio, this would be a signal that should not be underestimated, despite the fact it is – in overall terms – consistent with the current market trend of all the agricultural and food supply chains certified as organic. One of the causes which determined the current condition is to be traced back to excess production, such as to represent a consistent difficulty for the market of organic and bulk wines. In 2022, in fact, the sale of organic products in French supermarkets suffered a drop of -5%, while in shops specializing in organic farming products there was an even more substantial drop of -9%. In determining these negative results, wine – of course – represents an important share, both for the French domestic market and for exports.

 According to what was released by Agence Bio, wines from organic farming represent – alone – 39% of the overall export, for an economic volume of 565 million euros. This figure is in any case a positive sign as it marks an increase of +2% compared to 2021. As regards the French domestic market, the sale of wines from organic farming – despite the negative influence of current inflation – grew by +5%, equal to 1.4 billion euro. This result is nonetheless significant, in particular by considering the drop recorded in large-scale distribution (-7%, equal to 134 million euro) and shops specializing in organic products (-7%, equal to 55 million euro). The sectors which recorded a growth were those of direct sales (+5%, equal to 421 million euros), winery networks (+8%, equal to 159 million euros) and catering (+12%, equal to 129 million euros).

 Overall, 21% of France's vineyards are cultivated in organic agriculture – recognized by the relative certification – of which one third are in the conversion phase. The territory of France in which is recorded the largest share of vineyards cultivated in organic farming is Bordeaux, in particular the Gironde, with a total of 27,200 hectares, half of which in the process of conversion, where are being produced 31% of the total organic wines in France. Another territory of primary importance is Languedoc-Roussillon, in addition to the Rhone Valley which makes up 21% of the entire surface. In this regard, Henri Cozyns – president of the Vignerons Bio of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the first territory in France for the surface area of vineyards under conversion – underlined the role and figure of the “organic winemaker”, defined as «the one who “pampers” biodiversity, safeguards natural resources, innovates with unique wines, without sulfur and other additions, participating in the local network. A winemaker who employs almost twice as many workers and does not disappoint, the one you would like to have as a neighbor».

 If the French organic wine market is experiencing a moment of difficulty, that of bulk wine is even considered “moribund”. And this, long before organic wine became an important element in the wine economy of France. In this regard, many are wondering about the real usefulness and necessity of bulk wine today, not only because of the fact in France there is a clear decline in consumption, but above all because of the choice of preferring bottled quality wine. The French consumer – therefore – is more interested in the quality and pleasure of a good wine, even if this means paying a higher price. In this regard, it is very interesting what emerges from the study conducted by Sowine-Dynata, a French consultancy agency specialized in wine trade and communication. According to this study, wines sold at prices below 5 euros are purchased by 2% of consumers, while 19% opt for bottles between 5 and 10 euros. 55% of French consumers buy wines sold at prices between 11 and 20 euros, while 24% are interested in those with prices over 20 euros.

 According to this study, therefore, the French consumer wants to drink less, but when he or she decides to do so, prefers good, quality and healthy wine, despite the fact this may correspond to an increase in price. If this condition is not met, the French consumer completely ignores the wine offer in the shop and decides to buy beer or other alcoholic beverages. In truth, this behavior is not found in France only. Even in Italy, it seems, consumers are since quite a long time oriented towards consuming less wine, but when they decide to do so, they choose quality bottles, therefore willing to spend more. This attitude is found both among consumers who prefer the so-called organic wines, and those who are not primarily interested in this kind of wine. Regardless of the market trend of the so-called organic wines, it is probably the normal cycle of interest that consumers show towards certain products, not only a cultural fact, therefore, but also the fad of the moment. Organic or non-organic, at least as far as I am concerned, the important thing is always to adopt conscious consumption, in moderation, provided it is always of high quality.

Antonello Biancalana



   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 230, Summer 2023   
Organic Vineyards of France: an Unexpected DeclineOrganic Vineyards of France: an Unexpected Decline  Contents 
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