Tag Archives: organic wine

Winebits 544: Organic wine edition

organic wineThis week’s wine news: An update on organics, organic wine, and natural wine

Not a whole lot: Organics are one of the fastest growing categories in the food business, but not in wine. This piece from Vinepair doesn’t say so explicitly – it’s mostly boilerplate about two-year-old harvest numbers – but that’s what the Wine Curmudgeon is for. In 2016, about two percent of the cabernet sauvignon harvested in California was certified organic. In other words, not much at all. Given the growth in organics in the U.S, it’s always puzzled me why so little organic wine is produced. The best answer: That most consumers assume that all wine is more or less organic, which is hardly true.

How natural is natural? One of the biggest controversies in wine is about natural wine – wine made without pesticides, chemicals or preservatives. Having said that, don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard about it, since natural wine has an even smaller share of the market than organic wine. This piece from England’s Guardian newspaper does a fine job of exploring the controversy: “Advocates of natural wine believe that nearly everything about the £130 billion (about US$174 billion) modern wine industry – from the way it is made, to the way critics police what counts as good or bad – is ethically, ecologically and aesthetically wrong.”

The other organics: Meanwhile, the U.S. organic market grew 6.4 percent in 2017 – a little slower than usual but still huge growth from a big base. The value of all organic products sold in this country is almost $40 billion, about the same amount as all wine sales sin the U.S. How stunning is that number? Especially since organics are just five percent of the U.S. retail market. Says the head of the biggest organic trade group: “Consumers love organic, and now we’re able to choose organic in practically every aisle in the store.” The key word there, of course, is practically.

Winebits 538: Wine competition judges, legal weed, green wine

wine competiton judgesThis week’s wine news: How do we improve the quality of wine competition judges? Plus more indications that legal weed will hurt wine and consumers’ attitudes toward green wine

Judging the judges: Jamie Goode at the Wine Anorak asks the question that all of us who judge wine competitions should ask – how can we increase the diversity and quality of the judges? This is a question that has come up increasingly over the past several years, with little consensus about what needs to be done. Interestingly, writes Goode, “It’s not always the famous people or the people with letters after their name who turn out to be the best judges. [I know some MWs who have passed a difficult blind tasting paper, but who are weak, inconsistent judges.]”

• Marijuana vs. wine: Tom Wark talks about a report that offers three reasons why legal marijuana poses a threat to wine sales, something we’ve talked about before here. Writes Wark: “I highly recommend reading this article because it offers a logical and well-sourced argument why the wine industry ought to be worried.” Intriguingly, legal weed can sale its health benefits, which is something I’ve never thought about (probably too many Cheech and Chong bits in my youth). Wine, on the other hand, has always seemed torn about whether wine and health was a good thing.

Green wine: The Wine Market Council reports that regular wine drinkers like the idea of organic and organically-produced wines, and might even pay more for them. But the study doesn’t address why the market for green wine is almost non-existent, and especially when compared to other organic fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, pork, and chicken. One reason, which the report hints at, is the confusion between terms: organic wine is different from organically-produced wine, while both are different from biodynamic and sustainable.

Winebits 533: Silly wine descriptions, nutrition labels, and organic wine

Silly wine descriptions This week’s wine news: Silly wine descriptions that are so silly even I don’t believe them, plus the EU takes on nutrition labels and the sad state of organic wine

No sense at all: John Tilson at the Underground Wine Letter has found three silly wine descriptions that prove, again, how little the Winestream Media writes for the average wine drinker. Or for anyone who cares about English. Click on the link and read all three; this, part of one of them, will give you a hint of what’s in store: “texturally silken, supremely elegant effort transparently and kaleidoscopically combines moss, wet stone, gentian, buddleia, coriander, pepper, piquant yet rich nut oils and a saline clam broth savor. …” Know that I am a professional writer who has been paid to do this since I was 15 and have won numerous writing awards, and I have never seen the word gentian. Let alone used it. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

Nutrition labels: EU wine producers, as well as beer and spirits makers, will make more nutritional and ingredients information available to consumers, including calorie information for wine, reports Decanter magazine. It’s part of a requirement by the EU that producers improve nutrition and ingredients information for consumers. The story notes there is disagreement between the industry and some public health officials as to whether the information is enough, but it still puts the EU decades ahead of the U.S. Here, nutrition labeling is optional, and most producers don’t do it because they think it will scare or confuse consumers.

No to organic: The U.S. is fourth worst in organic vineyards among major global wine grape growers, reports the Wine Industry Insight website. Just 2.7 percent of U.S. vineyards are organic, compared to industry leader Italy’s 15.5 percent. That’s especially intriguing given the value and popularity of the rest of the U.S. organic industry, which accounts for more than five percent of U.S. food sales.

Winebits 467: U.S. wine boom, organic wine, wine gifts

U.S. wine boomThis week’s wine news: The end of the U.S. wine boom, plus the profitability of organic wine and returning wine gifts

Is the fat lady singing? Those of us who rely on facts instead of “this is the way it’s always been” to parse the wine business got more bad news last week. “Two measures suggest that the U.S. market for wine may have peaked – or at least paused. There has been a reduction in the average consumption per head of wine in the last few years, coupled with a reduction in the number of very frequent wine drinkers – that is, those drinking wine on a near daily basis.” This, from a report by the Wine Intelligence consultancy, confirms what has been reported elsewhere – the 40-year-old U.S. wine boom seems to be over. What happens next, as more producers and retailers chase fewer consumers, is anyone’s guess. I’m going to write about this quite a bit over the next year; it’s probably the most important trend in wine in this country since the fighting varietals of the 1970s.

Not much of a market? Organic wine, whether it’s labeled as organic, made with organic grapes, or farmed bio-dynamically, has never been much of a factor in the U.S., and certainly not the way organics are for tomatoes and the like. This article from the Western Farm Press trade magazine is about as technical as you would expect from something called Western Farm Press, but the gist is that growing organic grapes is not easy and not necessarily profitable. Sheep grazing for weed control, anyone?

What about the leftover wine? The Wine Curmudgeon, who has insisted that giving wine for a gift should be done with thoughtfulness and considerations, is always impressed when someone else feels the same way. Hence this article from the Courier-Post in Camden, N.J..: Unless “you’re specifically asked to bring wine to contribute [to dinner[, do not be offended if the bottle you bring isn’t opened. Sometimes, wine is specifically chosen to go with the food being served. Although you may bring a perfectly wonderful wine, it may not complement the dishes being served that evening.”

Wine of the week: Lamura Bianco Organica 2014

lamura biancoOrganic and natural wines, despite powerful support, have never gotten much attention from consumers. For one thing, it’s difficult to tell the difference between organic and conventional wines, and especially when it comes to quality. Fortunately, the Lamura Bianco, a white from Sicily made with catarratto, has been a consistent organic value for years.

The Lamura Bianco ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is made with organic grapes (which is different from an organic wine); the 2014 vintage, despite its age, shows why Lamura delivers outstanding quality and value almost annually. Look for lemon and tropical fruit in a wine that is crisp and fresh, and with all of that topped off with the minerality one expects from a wine that will pair perfectly with seafood.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame, with one caveat. Older vintages of the white (though not of the other Lamura, a red) don’t always age well, and can taste tired and worn out. I haven’t noticed a pattern to this, and it may be because the wine suffers during its Dallas supply chain experience. If that’s the case, then you won’t have a problem with it in other parts of the country.

Does organic wine taste better?

organic wineDoes eco-friendly wine — organic wine, wine made with organic grapes, or made with grapes farmed sustainably — taste better than conventional wine? Apparently so, says a recent study, and those results are quite surprising given the history of green wine.

Magali Delmas, an environmental scientist at UCLA who has studied eco-friendly wine over the past decade, was almost surprised at the answer. Her most recent study — “Does organic wine taste better?” (written with Olivier Gergaud of the KEDGE Business School in Bordeaux and UCLA’s Jinghui Lim) comes to the conclusion that it does.

That’s news to many of us, myself included, who see green wine as costing more without necessarily tasting any better. Yes, we understand that the extra cost is a good thing, in the way that green production methods are usually a good thing. But few see the extra cost as better quality, in the way that a more expensive organic tomato tastes better. In fact, says Delmas, that perception is so common in wine that two-thirds of producers who do eco-friendly wine don’t label it as such on the bottle.

Nevertheless, she says, there does seem to be a quality difference that can be measured statistically (and allowing for the fact that scores are the only way to measure quality statistically). Delmas and her colleagues used ratings from the Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine Spectator for 74,148 California wines made between 1998 and 2009; the result, after using sophisticated math to allow for vintage differences, the age of the wines, and critical bias (actually one of the most interesting parts of the study): “eco-certification is associated with a statistically significant increase in wine quality rating” by about one-half point.

So why hasn’t anyone figured this out? Delmas cites the confusion inherent in green wine, where an organic wine is different from a wine made with organic grapes, and which isn’t the case for organic tomatoes. In addition, does sustainably farmed really mean anything? And where does biodynamic fit? In addition, growing an organic tomato is straightforward compared to making a green wine, which further confuses the issue.

My guess? That most green wines are made with better quality grapes by better winemakers, and would likely score higher even if they weren’t green. Generally, cheap wine isn’t green, and the added cost of going green works against the process in which cheap wine is made to hit a certain price and not to taste a certain way.

New features for the blog?

Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, mold

Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, moldBecause the customers always write, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers every six or eight weeks or so. Ask me a wine-related question .

Mudge:
What’s the difference between organic and biodynamic and regular wine? I know about organic tomatoes, but this is just confusing.
Not sure what any of this means

Dear Not Sure:
It is confusing, because organic for wine doesn’t mean the same thing that it means for vegetables or fruits. Organic wine is made without added sulfites, which is different from wine made with organic grapes. And biodynamic, like wines from Bonny Doon, takes organic farming to another level. And, interestingly, green wines are not as popular, relatively speaking, as other green products.

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Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I was at a dinner party the other night, and someone brought a bottle of wine because they liked the closure, which was some kind of screwcap. Do people really buy wine based on whether it has a screwcap? As opposed to how it tastes, because this wine tasted like gasoline.
You’ve got to be kidding

Dear Kidding:
I don’t know that anyone has done a study, but anecdotal evidence suggests just that. I recently had lunch with a 20-something woman who makes expensive wine in California, and she said that she will buy a screwcap wine, all things being equal, if she is in the store looking for a bottle for dinner. I have heard that many times, and I do it myself, too.

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Dear Jeff:
I recently opened a bottle of wine, and the cork was kind of moldy. My husband said we should throw it out, that we would get some kind of disease. I hated to waste it, since it was an expensive bottle, and I am as cheap as you are. We did drink it, but I have been wondering: Was the wine OK to drink?
Worried about mold

Dear Worried:
You’re safe — mold on a wine cork is a sign the bottle has been stored properly, and is not like mold on bread, which you do want to throw out, regardless of how cheap you are. Typically, moldy corks will only happen to older and more expensive wines that people have been aging, and it’s not a problem with most of the wine we drink.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
? Ask the WC 3: Availability, prices, headaches
? Ask the WC 2: Health, food pairings, weddings
? Ask the WC 1: Loose corks, cava, unadulterated wine