Through the grapevine

It tastes better, it’s cheaper … what’s not to love about organic wine?

It tastes better, it’s cheaper … what’s not to love about organic wine?

Ben Canaider says now’s the time to jump on the organic wine bandwagon

As with food, so with wine. The organic trend is growing. Restaurant menus nowadays increasingly spruik the organic or biodynamic provenance of their foodstuffs; so it should not come as a surprise to soon see more organic wines being animatedly listed in your competitor’s venues. And with all things involved in hospitality, the sooner you test the waters, the better.

Firstly, it is important to realise that organic wine is not going to be a flash in the pan. Supermarkets increasingly sell a wide range of organic products: chicken, vegetables, pasta—and more of it is buyer’s own-brand, to boot. It follows that supermarket wine buyers will soon want to offer their customers a bigger range of organic wine. And the wine industry—so a-glut with wine—is already re-jigging vineyards and land management practices to satisfy their wholesale customers’ new need. The upshot? If wine drinkers can start regularly drinking more affordable organic wine at home, they might very well be ready for an up-sell when they dine out.

Which is where you come in.

Yet here’s one caveat: don’t expect it to be a daisy farm. Organic wine won’t be a cash-cow or a walk-in-the-park. It is not enough to simply offer the bio-organic stuff on the list and trust it sells itself. You still need to massage the wine through with a believable message. Just like any wine really.

And there is one clear way to do this. The answer is found in some recent comments made by a visiting specialist in value chain management and consumer behaviour.

Professor Andrew Fearne, from the University of Kent’s Business School, and in 2008 an Adelaide Thinker in Residence, is the expert in question. With regard to organics, he has noticed that over the last 15 years organic appeal has grown from a small base of ideologically driven hippies to a much wider pool of consumer-sentiment. He sees three areas where organics can really connect with consumers.

Firtly, there are younger families concerned about food safety issues; secondly, there are the adults interested in the perceived taste benefits of organically grown foods and beverages; and thirdly, there’s the broader populace generally keen on wholesomeness and the environment.

Hospitality professionals do really need to seize on the second factor—taste. The third factor, relating to health benefits and Mother Nature, should really be let alone, so that customers might treat that discovery as their own. Let customers come to own that information, rather than trying too hard to sell it to them. Keep your organic wine message all about taste.

But—and it is a big but—do organic wines taste better than non-organic ones? According to some of the most respected winemakers and grape growers in the world, they do. Vanya Cullen, from Cullen in Margaret River, thinks her vineyards’ shift from modern, conventional viticulture to more bucolic organic practise was a significant factor in the change in her grapes’ flavour. Slightly sceptical about how quickly a biodynamic/organic plan might affect her grapes’ taste, she was amazed to see—and to taste—such changes in such a short time. Cullen thought the biodynamic grapes had a certain X-factor, that they had a deeper and longer flavour.

It is a point of sensory evaluation not lost on many of the world’s leading wine growers.

Biodynamic and organic practitioners abroad include such well-respected wine names as Burgundy’s Leflaive, Alsace’s Zind-Humbrecht, California’s legendary Bonny Doon, and New Zealand’s Rippon. In Australia, along with names like Cullen, we also see Jasper Hill, Castagna, Krinklewood, Lark Hill, Kalleske, Sutton Grange, and Temple Bruer boldly brandishing their organic and bio-dio flags, to name but a few.

Whilst there’s some obvious promotional yardage to be gained with organic and biodynamic practices, plenty of winemakers swear black and blue that it is the difference the practice makes to soil, growth, and grape flavour that cements them to this sustainable and eco-friendly viticulture. It is really not too hard a leap of faith to make. Anyone who has grown their own lettuce in the backyard will understand the difference vital foodstuffs can make to taste and flavour profiles. Grow that lettuce the next time around according to organic and biodynamic principles and be amazed in an even bigger way.

That leap of faith, however, can become a little unstuck if you consider too curiously biodynamic principles, however. Developed by an Austrian philosopher—Rudolph Steiner—in the 1920s, biodynamics sought to address soil infertility. Steiner’s approach drew on cosmic forces, spirituality, and stuffing cow manure into cow horns and planting them in the ground over winter. But that’s just to touch on the surface of biodynamics. The important thing to focus on is the way it is not just the hippies doing this stuff anymore, but big wine companies, too. As Angove’s head winemaker, Tony Ingle puts it; “Organic viticulture is the best way to improve soil quality and optimise water use, which creates stronger, healthier vines and better fruit. It is more expensive but we believe it makes for a better tasting wine.”

Ah, there’s another snag: “expensive”. The good news is that there’s plenty of good quality organic and biodynamic wine available at very competitive LUCs. Sutton Grange Rose from Central Victoria lands at $15; the Angove Organic Chardonnay and Shiraz/Cabernet are $9 each. Krinklewood Hunter Valley Semillon, also only $15 landed. At these sorts of prices such organic cachet seems too cheap to pass up.

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