This article is part of our special report European winemakers grapple with environmental questions.
While the French people are consuming less wine, they are drinking more organic wine. However, the expense of going ‘bio’ proves to be an important risk for winegrowers. EURACTIV France reports.
In France, wine consumption has recently slowed down, with a 4% decrease each year. This is according to France’s farm office Franceagrimer, and the French are consuming less.
On the other hand, the organic wine market is doing well, since the consumption of wines with an organic label is showing steady growth. According to a study by the British institute IWSR, sales of organic wines are expected to grow by at least 14% each year until 2022.
This dynamic consumption appears to be relying on the growing mistrust of the French towards synthetic pesticides, which are prohibited by the requirements of organic farming.
In France, more and more winegrowers are deciding to convert to organic farming. In 2018, organic vineyards spread across 94,000 hectares in France, which represents a 12% increase in surface area. The sector’s turnover is worth €1 billion, according to Agence Bio and the national inter-professional association of organic wines, France Vin Bio.
And the trend is expected to continue, as the public debate in France is increasingly centred on the issue of pesticide use. For several months, parts of the French population have raised concerns regarding the so-called ‘pesticide-free zones’, and the government has recently launched a consultation on the issue.
“There is societal pressure to reduce the use of pesticides, particularly when municipalities want to impose a 150-metre perimeter without pesticides,” explained Vincent Mercier, an organic winegrower in Côte de Bourg and a member of the France Vin Bio office.
Low profile vineyards
Organic vineyards, particularly with less prestigious appellations, are seeing progress, while the more established ones are living on their laurels.
The wine industry in the Auvergne region, for example, has made an accelerated transition to organic wine. In the Côtes d’Auvergne, which spans over a surface of 800 hectares, half of the independent winegrowers are into organic farming.
On the other hand, the transition to organic winegrowing for the very famous Champagne region remains at a very low 5% rate.
For 41% of French people, the organic conditions in which wine was made is reason enough to purchase a bottle. More importantly, the price that consumers are willing to pay for a bottle of organic wine is €8.70, which is almost €2 more than for a wine bottle produced by conventional agricultural means.
“But be careful to distinguish between purchasing intentions and acts. These do not always reconcile, given that increasing the purchasing power of the French does not appear to be happening anytime soon,” Vincent Mercier cautioned.
However, the conversion to organic farming does not appeal to everyone. Requirements to qualify as organic farming do not take into account all the criteria for preserving the environment. Carbon emissions, for instance, are not taken into account.
Renouncing the use of any synthetic treatment also poses a significant risk to winegrowers.
“Taking the risk in organic farming is to abandon conventional treatment completely, which could lead to completely losing the harvest. It is understandable to keep the possibility of such a treatment,” Mercier admitted.
And the inputs allowed in organic agriculture, such as copper and sulphur, are also subject to environmental criticism.
Other more environmentally-friendly approaches may also appeal to winegrowers. However, labelling wines as biodynamic or natural comes with even stricter requirements.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]