The New Gastronome
Organic, Biodynamic, and Natural Wines
by Marco Cossaro
by Marco Cossaro
They represent a new approach to working with and drinking wine, but do consumers and producers know and properly understand these new trends? They’re creating a new marketing approach, in order to improve some small- scale productions, to diversify the wine market, and to be closer to consumers’ preferences. But is it a transparent market?
Do you remember the first time you drank wine? Of course, you do. Like a confused and insecure first kiss, you took a sip of this magical grape juice and I’m sure you weren’t looking for the taste and the smell – you just wanted to enjoy it. We should not forget that wine is made to be drunk. And in order to understand any type of wine trend, we should first understand the society that is consuming and producing it.
Some people say that we live in a postmodern society. The most distinctive features of postmodernity are cultural rather than structural or economic: the mass-mediated electronic culture blurs the distinction between reality and fantasy, between the important and the frivolous, between truth and falsehood, between medium and message. Reality and fantasy merge as in cybersex, virtual reality, the O.J. Simpson trial, and Disneyworld. Modern society is about work, production and industry; postmodern society is about leisure, consumption and human relationships. Modern society communicates through printed words; postmodern society communicates electronically and iconically.
Can we see this trend as the research of our society? Of some sparkles of magic and fantasy? Nowadays, we talk about “emotional tasting” and “sensory experience” when it comes to wine. Not too long ago, we were told to cut a wine in 5.000 parts to see if all components were right. Instead, now, some first approaches are all about taking a sip and seeing if it goes directly to your heart. A wine must make you feel something, like a spiritual experience.
Social movements are becoming more cultural and less purely economically focused than in the past. Feminists, homosexuals, ethnic groups, environmentalists, religious fundamentalists, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, pursue cultural values and psychological goals rather than purely economic ones, as did the working class under old-fashioned socialism.
Whether it’s organic, natural or biodynamic, “all wines in the index are characterized by a combination of positive desires: to make more environmentally responsible and sustainable wine, to give consumers a choice behind the mainstream and to cater to committed minorities, such as vegans, who are seeking out products that fit their lifestyle choice.”
– L. Halstead, CEO, Wine Intelligence.
Where biodynamic winemaking is concerned, we can clearly see that it’s a trend right now in the market, even though biodynamic agriculture has quite a long history already, with Rudolf Steiner introducing this subject back in 1924. Like other forms of organic agriculture, biodynamic agriculture uses management practices that are intended to restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. Central features include crop diversification, the avoidance of chemical soil treatments and off-farm inputs, generally decentralized production and distribution, and the consideration of celestial and terrestrial influences on biological organisms.
Nicolas Joly, the soft guru of biodynamic agriculture in France, states that modern agriculture is Stalinist with regards to plants: it doesn’t acknowledge their deepness and their soul. Industrial gators are like jail, the industrial vineyard doesn’t have the right to talk; it can only stay silent and obey. It’s slavery.
Of course, it is not. Just taking into account the definition of organic, biodynamic and natural wine, it’s really easy to make a mess in every standard consumer’s mind, and producers know it. In a society that refers more to labelling and ideas rather than industry and production, marketing plays a huge role in creating and preserving a trend inside a market and without a doubt, this slice of the wine market’s pie has already been poisoned with the greediness of humankind.
When consumers care about something, they hate to be fooled. Consumers learn way faster than producers sometimes think, which is continually helping to grow and consolidate this trend that is all about high fidelity – from the production to the bottling, to the tasting. This is also leading to a transformation and diversification of the market with new niche categories such as Vino Libero, by Oscar Farinetti, aiming for a sustainable agriculture and profitable economy between agricultural enterprises and the Triple-A movement – Agricoltori, Artigiani, Artisti – born to fight wine standardization and to promote the uniqueness of wines and their naturalness.
I will go a little bit more into details only this once, in order to give a better idea of the market: the SOLA opportunity index uses three areas to show which alternative wines have the best opportunities. These areas are awareness, purchase intent, and affinity. The top three areas of opportunity, according to the index, are organic, sustainably-produced wine, and Fairtrade wine. However, this varies by market. In the UK, for example, Fairtrade comes out on top, while in Japan, it’s preservative-free wine that offers the most opportunity.
Besides everything else, tasting a wine speaks to the heart, and, with the increased sensitivity of the consumer, with knowledge and awareness of this trend and its surrounding marketing, there’s still a share of pleasure and delight to obtain and emerge from us on an intimate level, thanks to the uniqueness and privilege that everyone’s sensitivity identifies in a wine taste, like a kiss. To put it in a fancier way, I like to think of wine taste as music taste. This trend is happening not only thanks to the increased consumers’ awareness of sustainability, green economy and production, but also because there were some tastes that were left out of the market. And finally, they found their beloved rock band in these trendy wines.
We’re called the postmodern society. We are considered superficial and frugal. But at least, we have created the chance to drink, in a wine glass, our favourite songs, no matter the genre.
Illustration ©Christie Lo