Organic and biodynamic wines are better

Published on 2021-09-15

By David Colgan

Ecological wine has been proven better-tasting by a study intitled ‘French wines made with organic grapes receive the best marks’ carried out at UCLA and KEDGE Business School.

A growing portion of consumers are ready to pay more for organic foods grown without the use of pesticides, even though they do not necessarily taste better. The same is not true for organic wines. All too often, organic wines continue to be sold at prices similar to those of conventional wines, even though they do taste better. This superior taste is increasingly clear.
The new study by Magali Delmas, environmental economist at UCLA, and Olivier Gergaud, economist at the Kedge Business School in Bordeaux, France, shows that wines certified organic by an independent organisation receive higher marks in tastings than wines without organic certification. This study involved 128,000 French wines that were produced between 1995 and 2015 and evaluated by three famous wine guides: Gault & Millau, Gilbert & Gaillard and Bettane Desseauve.

Producing wine with organic or biodynamic methods improves its quality
- Wines that are certified organic generally receive marks that are 6.2% higher than those attributed to conventional wines or wines that have adopted a label without control by a third party (pest management methods).
- For biodynamic wines, the difference is approximately 11.8%.

“Organic and biodynamic wines are generally of better quality,” said Magali Delmas, who added: “It’s another example of sustainable products with additional advantages for consumers.”

An article based on the study will soon appear in Ecological Economics. This article is based on a study that the same authors carried out in 2016 on nearly 70,000 Californian wines, with similar results. The 2016 study determined that organic or biodynamic certifed wines from the United States’ main wine producing region obtained marks 4.1% higher than those obtained by conventional wines.
The new study carried out by Delmas and Gergaud focuses on French wines, its goal is to determine whether or not these results hold true for the world’s second largest wine producer (after Italy). The traditions of French viticulture in fact date back 2600 years, and in 2019 France produced nearly 4 billion litres of wine -- enough to fill Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium, which can hold 90,000 people.

Wine and health
According to Magali Delmas, “Grapes grown using conventional means use more pesticides than most other crops, endangering the health of agricultural workers, as well as fauna and neighbouring communities.”
The danger of using pesticides in winemaking was brought to light spectacularly in 2014, when teachers and students at a school in a rural area of the Bordeaux region were hospitalised after being exposed to toxic chemicals. Demonstrations followed, putting winemakers under pressure from public opinion. Since then, the wine industry in France has moved more rapidly to adopt environmentally-friendly methods and certification.

Pest management has not lived up to its promises
Instead of turning to third parties to certify that their wines are organic or biodynamic—which would require inspections and audits to guarantee that products meet certain criteria—some French winemakers have set up their own standard of certification with the wine industry. But Delmas and Gergaud’s study shows that these wines, with the ‘Pest Management’ label—but no independent verification authority in most cases—have not lived up to the same promises with respect to taste, in comparison with wines certified by third parties (organic or biodynamic). Wines certified without the intervention of a third party in fact received marks similar to those of conventional wines.
More and more French winemakers are choosing to produce their wines using organic or biodynamic methods. Between 2001 and 2019, the percentage of certified-organic vineyards in France increased from 1.5% to 14.1%, i.e. to a total of 112,057 hectares. (Source: French Office for organic agriculture 2019). Likewise, of the 128,000 wines in the study, 3.9% were organic or biodynamic between 1995 and 2000, in comparison with 7.4% between 2001 and 2014. Magali Delmas thinks this is because: “the owners of small vineyards do not want their families and farm workers exposed to pesticides, and the big vineyards like Château Yquem have recently begun to follow their example”.
It’s good to drink a toast to the environment.
« For some designations like Saint-Emilion, collectives like the one formed by the 6 ‘Corbin’ domains[1] have seen an astounding improvement in the quality of their wines since they have adopted production methods that respect the environment” adds Olivier Gergaud.
“Its another step in the right direction”
agrees Magali Delmas, “Not just for health and the environment, but for the quality of the wine.”

It’s important to talk about the superior quality of organic wines

But convincing consumers that organic wines taste better is a challenge. In “The Green Bundle: Pairing the Market with the Planet”, published in 2018, Magali Delmas suggests that wine producers talk about quality rather than environmental advantages. And that they point out the centuries-old origins of organic and biodynamic practices—a wink to the fact that the industry is firmly rooted in tradition—while synthetic pesticides were not introduced until the 1930’s.

[1] Château-Corbin, Château-Corbin-Michotte, Château-Grand-Corbin-Manuel, Château-Grand-Corbin-Despagne, Château-Grand-Corbin, Château-Haut-Corbin.