Will Consumers Pay More for Sustainably Certified Wine?

Completing the process of becoming certified for producing wine using sustainable practices can take years for vineyard owners. Achieving organic or biodynamic certification can take even longer.  Plus the cost of becoming certified and going through the inspection process can cost thousands of dollars.  Is this worth it for grape farmers?  Do consumers really care, and are they willing to pay more for an eco-certified wine?

Wine Consumers.   Photo Credit: Fotolia_123622764

A 2017 survey conducted at Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute with 301 wine consumers illustrates a willingness to pay several dollars more per bottle for “green” certified wines. The online survey was completed by a convenience sample of 26% men and 74% women living in the USA. Age by generation included 65% Millennial, 9% Gen X, and 26% Baby Boomers.

Definitions for Eco-Certified Wines

Consumers were asked: “Of the three major methods of environmental certification for wine in the US, which appeals to you most?” The results show that 44% selected sustainable wine, followed by 36% biodynamic and 20% organic grape wine.

Definition Which Appeals to You Most?
Certified Sustainable Wine – made in a way that is environmentally friendly, equitable to employees and economically viable to winegrowers. No agri-chemicals are applied, unless necessary to save the crop.  

44%

Made with Certified Organic Grapes – means the grapes were farmed with NO agri-chemicals. To achieve this certification, the vineyard must prove they have only used organic products for 3 years or more.  

20%

Certified Biodynamic Wine – goes beyond Organic by not only requiring ORGANIC grapes, but also uses farming practices designed to return the soil to a natural state.  

36%

Will You Pay More for Eco-Certified Wine?

Respondents were then asked if they would pay more for a bottle of eco-certified wine. Figure 1 illustrates that 91% of the sample would pay $1 more for a bottle of wine made from sustainably certified grapes, 88% would pay $1 more for a bottle made from certified organic grapes, and 85% would pay $1 more per bottle of wine made from certified biodynamic grapes.  Likewise, a range of 78% – 81% of consumers said they would be willing to pay $2 more per bottle.  However, as the price increased from $3 more to $4 more to $5 more per bottle, there were a decreasing number of consumers willing to pay more. Interestingly, however, as the price increased a slightly larger percentage of consumers were willing to pay more for certified biodynamic wines.

Figure 1: Are You Willing to Pay More Money for a Bottle of Eco-Certified Wine?

Implications for Winegrape Growers

The results of this survey indicate that consumers are interested and willing to pay a slight premium for wines that are certified sustainable, organic, and biodynamic. The concept of sustainability seems to have slightly more appeal than the other two certifications, even when clear definitions are provided. It is possible this may be due to the fact that the definition of sustainability includes equitable work practices for employees, as well as positive environmental actions. Organic and biodynamic definitions primarily focus on environmental practices.

Previous surveys focusing on this topic show that many consumers are confused by the multiple types of certifications, and that clear messaging must be included in order for the consumer to understand the benefits of the certification. Other surveys have also shown that many wine consumers already consider wine to be a natural product and are surprised to learn that there are certifications to insure organic and/or environmental practices. Due to this type of confusion, some wineries do not advertise the fact that they are certified or are using sustainable, organic and/or biodynamic practices. However, the results of this survey indicate that the timing may be more appropriate now to consider clearer communication on these positive farming practices.

It’s the Right Thing to Do

It should be noted, however, that there are many vineyard and winery owners around the world who elect to implement sustainable, organic, or biodynamic practices because they believe it is the right thing to do. They mention the long-term benefits for the planet, their families, and their local communities. For more information on this topic, see study published in Wine Spectator entitled: Is Being Sustainable Worth It for Wineries.

 

Summer in Sonoma

Sonoma and Napa Counties are a wonderful place to spend the summer. The weather is usually in the mid 80’s during the afternoon, but fog gently covers the landscape most mornings and some evenings.  This is especially the case in Carneros and Sonoma Coast appellations, which are closer to the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay.  This cooling marine influence is what allows us to grow world-class pinot noir and chardonnay in these areas.  However, if the fog is too cool for some (as it was for Mark Twain when he spent a summer in even cooler San Francisco), you only need to drive a few miles inland to find the hotter areas of Alexander, Dry Creek, and Calistoga where cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel thrive.

This summer on campus we are offering classes in both the June and July sessions.  Many students can accelerate their studies by taking for-credit classes during this time.
I am not teaching this summer, because I am working on research and a new book.  In addition, I have much travel planned, including trips to France, Italy, Croatia, Wisconsin and Arizona.

During the summer I also work much in my vineyard.  We got off to
a cool start with unseasonably cold and wet weather at the end of May and first
of June.  This caused delays in fruit set and increased threats of powdery mildew.
I have had to spray the vineyard with sulfur and Serenade (both organic products) more than usual.  Everyone is predicting a delayed harvest again in this area. Interestingly France is experiencing a drought with no rain in April and May including heat in the 90’s.  Their vines are much more advanced than ours at this time, and they are predicting
one of the earliest harvests on record – perhaps in August!  It is amazing how much control Mother Nature wields, and so for the summer months, I offer a few quotes in honor of her power.

“We cannot command Nature except by
obeying her.” – Francis Bacon

“Let us permit Nature to
take her own way; she better understands her own affairs than we.” – Michel de
Montaigne