The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

Close to nature: The organic wine boom in NZ… Are you part of it?

By Charlotte Cowan

Organic wine production has experienced significant growth in recent years – both locally and globally – driven by both consumer preferences and a commitment to environmental conservation.

According to a recent report from global liquor analysts, IWSR, organic wines enjoy the highest awareness levels among alternative wines, and the segment is continuing to grow around the world.

“Growth opportunities are evident in newer alternative wines markets such as Hong Kong, Brazil and New Zealand,” says Richard Halstead, COO Consumer Research, IWSR. “This is driven by an increase in awareness and consideration of the category, and an increase in purchasing in New Zealand.”

What exactly is organic wine?

“Organic growers aim to produce wines that are true to the earth, and to take care of the land we all share,” says Organic Winegrowers NZ (OWNZ).

“No synthetic chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or herbicides are used. Instead, organic producers build healthy vines by building healthy soils, and by nurturing a diverse, rich community of plants, soil, insects and microorganisms.”

Organic vineyards rely on natural farming practices, such as composting, cover cropping, and beneficial insect management, to promote soil health and biodiversity and an increasing number of New Zealand vineyards have transitioned to organic farming methods.

In New Zealand, companies such as BioGro and AsureQuality provide internationally-recognised organic certification.

Some stats

The global organic wine market size was estimated at USD $8.9 billion in 2021 and is anticipated to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.2% from 2022 to 2030 to USD $21.5 billion, according to a report from Grand View Research.

In New Zealand, members of OWNZ rose to an all-time high of 240 companies in 2023, according to the annual report from NZ Winegrowers.

These include fully-organic wineries such as Alpha Domus, Greystone wines and Felton Road (recently named Winery of the Year NZ by The Real Review) and partly-organic, such as Palliser Estate and Giesen.

According to NZ Winegrowers, more than 10% of New Zealand wineries now hold organic certification, and the fourth Organic and Biodynamic Winegrowing Conference held last June drew nearly 400 attendees (and more than 120 brands) to Marlborough.

Our climate

One of the main reasons for the rise of organic wine in this country is our favourable climate and environmental conditions.

The maritime climate – including warm days and cool nights – combined with a long growing season and diverse terroir creates an ideal environment for grape cultivation and winemaking.

Many vineyards are also located in regions with low disease pressure and minimal pests, making it easier for winemakers to take on organic farming practices.

Barry Riwai

Barry Riwai – Winemaker at Alpha Domus, which is located in the Bridge Pa Triangle Wine District – says organics focuses on building resilience into the soil, which helps the vines resist the vagaries of the weather.

“We spend a lot more time thinking about the underground web of life that supports all the plants and us on top,” he tells The Shout NZ.

“We still manage to harvest good fruit, even in the most difficult vintages, because the roots and canopies are physically set up to cope better with the challenges that a difficult vintage brings.”

Why are consumers choosing organic?

Better for you
With the growth of the “better for you” movement, and awareness of the potential health risks associated with pesticide residues and synthetic additives in food and beverages, more consumers are turning to organic wine as a safer and “healthier” option.

Many pesticides are known or suspected carcinogens and organic winemakers adhere to strict regulations that ban all pesticides and limit the amount of added sulphites.

According to IWSR’s consumer tracking data, while climate concerns are not enough in themselves to justify the purchase of organic wine, there is a strong perceived association with ‘better for you’ attributes.

“The typical consumer audience is younger wine drinkers who have positive associations with the segment and are willing to pay for products that align with their needs and values,” says Richard Halstead.

Guy McMaster

Guy McMaster – Viticulturalist and Winemaker at Palliser Estate in the Wairarapa, which began organic conversion in 2017 – agrees that there is an increasing focus on health and wellbeing amongst consumers.

“For some people [this] means choosing low/no alcohol drinks,” he tells The Shout NZ. “For others, they still want to enjoy premium wine, but they want to avoid ingesting pesticides.

“They want wines that are grown in soil that’s healthy and mineral rich, meaning the fruit in the wine is more nutritious – so their motivation is that it’s healthier for them.”

Better for the environment
Sustainability concerns have generally become more elevated amongst consumers over the past few years, and they perceive organic wines as being better for the environment and more ethically responsible.

According to Organics Aotearoa New Zealand, organic production benefits our ecosystems in several important ways.

“Organic farms create less pollution, protecting the health of our waterways while contributing to biodiversity. Well-managed organic soils can also store significant amounts of carbon, stabilising our climate and keeping our planet habitable for generations to come.”

Guy McMaster says there are a selection of people making consumer choices based on the products’ impact on the environment.

“They choose organic and sustainable products, because they tread lightly on the land, river, sea, and air, and they encourage increased biodiversity – so their driver is an environmental one,” he says.

In addition to organic wine, a survey conducted by McKinsey and Co. showed that 60% of respondents said they’d pay more for a product with sustainable packaging.

As consumer interest in organic products continues to grow and organic wines have gained popularity in the market, the perception of them as a premium product may be influenced by their sometimes higher price point compared to non-organic wines – but also their complex and robust flavour profiles. These factors lead consumers to associate them with higher quality.

And with post-pandemic consumer behaviour showing consumers prefer quality over quantity, they are gravitating towards higher-quality wines, such as organic options.

“We all want the best food and drink that’s available,” says Barry Riwai. “From our tastings, we can see that the change to organics is giving us more concentration in fruit flavour in all varieties, also extra tannin, colour and body in the reds.”

Guy McMaster says organic vines have a natural balance in terms of vigor in relation to the sites they are grown on.

“The resulting organic wines better express a completeness and subtle earthiness that provides a heightened sense of place,” he says.

The 2024 vintage

Environmental factors in 2023 – including Cyclone Gabrielle in the North Island and an exceptionally dry summer in Marlborough – hit many of the New Zealand wine regions hard.

However, winemakers are confident in the 2024 vintage, which they say will still be exceptional.

McMaster says yield-wise, Palliser was only 2% back on long-term averages.

“And although it’s early days still, we’re excited by the quality – it’s looking exceptional across all our wines, so we feel 2024 will be a vintage for cellaring,” he says.

Riwai says the weather was very settled and dry over harvest at Alpha Domus, which let them pick the grapes at perfect ripeness and balance.

“It was a small harvest tonnage-wise, but it is packed full of exceptional flavour and quality.”

Looking ahead

In the coming years, the future of organic wine in New Zealand looks promising, with continued growth and innovation on the horizon.

As the global demand for sustainable and organic products continues to rise, New Zealand winemakers are poised to lead the way in organic viticulture, setting new standards for excellence and environmental responsibility in the wine industry.

“If this consumer-led demand continues, the future of organic New Zealand wine is bright,” says McMaster.

“A wonderful vision – if we could all work together to achieve it – would be to have New Zealand as the organic food basket of the world, and that is worth raising a glass to!”

Organic Wine Week (OWW)

Organic Wine Week 2024 is taking place from 16-22 September, ushering in the Spring Equinox.

Now in its seventh consecutive year, the week-long festivities will see wineries, distributors, retailers (amongst others) come together to showcase and communicate the importance and quality of organic wine, as well as emphasise its positive impact on people and the environment.

A calendar of events will be released closer to the time and can be found here.

To read reviews by Cameron Douglas MS on organic and bio-dynamic wines, click here.

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