Organic Grapes Produce Higher Quality Wine, But Wine Snobs Snub Them

Foodies and Joe Schmoes alike are increasingly shelling out a bit more for goods with the ‘organic’ label. But the same isn’t true for wine. Even though organically grown grapes produce a better-quality vin, affixing an eco-label appears to lower its value in consumers’ eyes, researchers report.

Environmental economists at UCLA studied 13,426 wines from 1,495 California wineries, and tracked down each one’s Wine Spectator rating (the publication uses a 100-point scale). They found that wines made from organically grown grapes averaged one point higher than their conventionally produced counterparts.

When it comes to cheaper wines, those under $25 a bottle, organic certification and eco-labels didn’t make a difference. But for more expensive organic wines, vintners might want to avoid advertising the green origins of the vino, the study, published in Business and Society, found.

So long as they didn't carry eco-labels, these wines commanded a 13-percent higher price than conventionally produced wines of the same varietal, appellation, and year. Slapping on the "made from organically grown grapes" label drove prices down 7 percent, compared to conventionally produced wines, the researchers found. The average price for a wine with an eco-label was $37.65; a certified wine without an eco-label commanded an average price of $40.54.

Though the researchers, led by Magali Delmas, don’t offer a definitive reason for the price-drop, it may be something vintners are already aware of: They found that only one-third of winemakers using organically certified grapes advertised the fact on wine labels.

It’s a trend among French winemakers, too. “Many of France's top vintages are equally natural, or even organic, but choose not to use the organic certification because of lingering wine snobbery,” AFP reports. The “natural” wine movement is gaining ground there, driven by increasing appreciation for purer wine. “It is no secret that many of the world's wines are made from grapes grown on soils stuffed with chemicals - and that the bottle on the shelf can contain yeasts, sugars and even flavours or wood chips added to produce a predictable finish to please the average consumer's palate,” the article says. 

In California, Delmas points out that one drawback of organic wines is their shorter shelf life. “Without added sulfites, the wine turns into vinegar after a while, and you're likely to lose out on the opportunity for your wine to mature into something considerably richer than when purchased, which is the promise of fine wine, ” Delmas says. “So while no-sulfites-added is fine for white wines such as Chardonnay that you usually drink 'young,' it is not good for a red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon that you want to keep to drink in a year or two.”

Delmas says both winemakers and oenophiles are missing out: vintners on highlighting the quality of their product, and wine aficionados on treating their palate.

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