What’s your position on “green” wine?
Whether sustainably produced, organically farmed, or biodynamically derived, the number and range of “green” wines is growing each year, spurred on not only by grape growers and vintners concerned about the micro-climate shifts that are altering their growing seasons, but also consumers who increasingly want to vote with their dollars about the environment.
Two recent research studies sponsored by the Wine Institute of California, in fact, indicate that the sustainable and eco-friendly attributes of wine have become important considerations for wine consumers as well as the wine trade when they make purchasing decisions. Significantly, those who consider themselves actively involved in making sure they buy eco-friendly wines drink wine at a much higher frequency than the average consumer.
The research, presented at a Communicating Sustainability Workshop in San Francisco recently, indicates that eco-conscious wine consumers and the trade want to know more about sustainable and environmentally friendly practices in wineries and vineyards and in the overall production of their wines.
The study was part of the Natural Marketing Institute's Annual Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability Consumer Trends Database, which quantifies the size of the consumer market for environmentally and socially responsible products, which specifically segmented adult wine consumers. Among the findings – 34 percent of wine consumers across all segments of the survey consider environmental and/or sustainable attributes when making wine purchases. More than 65 percent said they identify the eco-friendly, sustainable attributes of wine at the point of purchase via labels and other information. Of the respondents in the study who describe themselves as active stewards of the environment and buyers of eco-friendly, socially responsible products, 43 percent reported purchasing wine in the past three months, higher than the general adult population.
Trade, too, is feeling the heat – the Wine Institute also partnered with sustainability consulting firm PE International in a survey of 59 trade respondents, including major retail and restaurant chains as well as distributors, regional and individual operations. Across all trade segments, 37 percent surveyed said sustainable attributes were frequently or very frequently a factor in wine selection while 86 percent indicated that they were at least occasionally a factor in wine selection.
Most respondents said they relied on winery marketing materials or testimony to identify wines with sustainable attributes, followed closely by third-party certification seals/statements and information on wine labels. Most respondents identified customer requests as well as their own personal and/or organizational values as reasons for selecting wines with sustainable attributes.
According to Robert P. Koch, president and CEO of the Wine Institute, 1,800 California winegrape growers and winemakers participate in the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance program, representing more than 70 percent of the state's wine acreage and case production.
It’s not only California that is increasing eco-friendly practices of course – even the controversial and sometimes opaque biodynamic wine movement has developed some very large proponents, including, as I found in a recent visit, major Chilean wine producers. Chilean winemakers have already pushed forward on organic and sustainable farming as well, and as their wines have improved so dramatically in the past five years, perhaps their success will further awaken buyers to the possibilities of the once-marginalized wine category.
Many restaurant wine buyers have caught on, and also are making certain their consumers know it as well. Customers don’t walk into a restaurant proclaiming that they care about sustainability, but when given the opportunity, often make buying decisions about wine in combination with the trust they have in a restaurant’s choices. Increasingly, as the “green” wines supplied span the spectrum, upgrading your list and supplying consumers with insights about how the wines were made is as important as the varietal, region and price.