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Trend grows for sustainably produced wines

International wine experts see a trend towards sustainable, ecologically aware wine cultivation as well as a stronger focus on an elegant and refined style. In business terms international supply in 2011 is expected to be better adapted to demand after a reduced 2010 vintage.

In nearly all wine-growing countries both individual producers and their associations are increasingly picking up on the sustainability theme and eco-friendly wine cultivation. Sustainability is gaining in importance – whether this is in the German VDP’s commitment to ecologically sound wine production and top European producers growing their wines biodynamically to the focal themes chosen by the overseas countries in the Down2Earth project exhibiting at ProWein 2011: In California the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing certification scheme has already been endorsed by 1,500 wine-growing estates and producers who operate 70% of the area under vine.

Alois Lageder, a leading quality producer from South Tyrol, regards this as an international trend – as does Hermann Pilz, editor-in-chief of the German trade magazine Weinwirtschaft. However, Pilz points out that the trend towards sustainability has somewhat branched off from the organic wine market. Those producing sustainable and eco-friendly wines, he says, are marketing their products via organic distribution channels to a lesser and lesser degree. He believes, for many producers, the production method is not at the forefront of marketing efforts and adds: “You might even say that considerably more organic wine is produced than is sold by this name.”

Virtually all international experts are pointing ever more unambiguously to stylistic changes. The buzzwords Alois Lageder uses to describe the current trend are: “Elegant wines along with a disenchantment with opulent wines; wines that you derive pleasure from drinking: fresh, light wines; less alcohol; fewer wines with a woody flavour.”

Joel Payne, president of the International Federation of Wine Journalists & Writers, explains: “On an international scale I see that customers are turning their back on wines with a strong woody flavour and high alcohol content. It is the lighter classics, in particular, that are now highly regarded”.

Belgian national Filip Verheyden who publishes the English-language quarterly Tong forecasts: “Modern wine styles will move away from concentration and head towards refinement. In view of global warming this will lead to even greater efforts in alcohol management at vineyards. Changes in vine training and pruning, earlier harvesting and using higher stem fractions to gain texture, are just some of the buzzwords here.”

However, Michel Rolland, a leading international consultant for projects on all continents, advises against overstressing this aspect: “We speak far too often about alcohol but you must not become too focused on it. Everyone knows that alcohol volumes have gone up – but only by 1 or 2 points. We are still far away from 40 per cent alcohol per volume. You have to beware of mistaking thin wines for fine and delicate ones. Many producers are running trials with barrel ageing for red wines in order to obtain finer, silkier tannins without losing concentration.”

A number of experts – independently of each other – hint at a certain revival of classic origins. Hermann Pilz says: “Burgundy is selling better again. Using Italy as an example we can observe a rising demand for wines from the Veneto or Piedmont.”

“Proven brands and origins are ranking higher again,” agrees Alois Lageder.

Eduardo Guilisasti, board chairman at Concha y Toro, has observed similar trends in premium brands that offer consumers reliable quality. Commenting on this, the Spaniard Miguel Torres, CEO and owner of the company of the same name, says: “I think consumers will prefer known brands that have stood the test of time and offer good value for money.” However, he adds, producers can no longer depend on the customer loyalty of earlier years: “People have become more independent. They want to experiment and use their interest in wine to get to know something new.”

The recovery of the global economy and a smaller 2010 vintage will make for a greater balance between supply and demand than was seen last year. Both the world’s area under vine and wine output were down in 2010 against the previous year, according to data provided by the International Organisation of Wine and Vine. The area used for wine growing worldwide fell by a total of approx. 70,000 hectares. Specifically, in the southern European countries of Italy, Spain, Portugal and France the area under vine has been cut – with the help of EU funding. In Australia and South Africa the area under cultivation also dropped while it has continued to rise in Chile and Argentina.

Globally the 2010 vintage produced about 260 million hectolitres of wine, i.e. 10.7 million hl or 4% less than the previous year. Nearly all European countries with the exception of Spain saw a smaller harvest this past autumn. There were also fewer grapes in the southern hemisphere and the US than in 2009. The only exception being Argentina where the vintage was particularly meagre last year.

Due to the very slim German harvest Hermann Pilz sees a possible shift in Germany, the world’s largest import market: “German wines will not be able to maintain their market share in the coming year. This will generate better sales opportunities for foreign wines on the important German market.”

Global consumer trends are once again being viewed more positively than in the crisis years of 2008 and 2009. “2010 has brought some signs of recovery for the global economy, though not in all countries,” notes Eduardo Guilisasti. In his company this has led to premium brands expanding more vigorously than simple wines. Several experts are reporting a willingness on the part of consumers to spend more on wine. However, Joel Payne does point to limits here: “After the economic crisis people have become a little more prudent in their purchasing behaviour. The willingness to spend lots of money on overpriced wine is limited.” In view of the reduced quantity of wine and growing consumer interest in wine OIV president Federico Castelluci anticipates rising wine prices.

In the medium term Eduardo Guilisasti sees dynamic markets primarily in Asia, Latin America and on mainland Europe. However, deputy president of the OIV Peter Hayes warns against overestimating the sales opportunities on growing wine markets like Brazil or China. It is not clear, he said, whether wine will continue to assert itself on a broad front in these countries. Add to this the fact that these nations are producing large quantities of wine themselves. China, he said, is already the fifth largest consumer market for wine but demand here is very largely being covered by the country’s own production and there is even strong interest in exports.


1 January 2011 - Jürgen Matthäß