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Does Organic Sell at Wine at Auction?

Interest in organic, biodynamic, and natural wines is at an all-time high, even at auction. Biodynamic and natural wines are making an appearance on wine lists, and dedicated natural wine bars are springing up in hipster neighbourhoods in cities all over the world. But what do these terms really mean? Allow us to clear up some of the confusion.

Organic Wine: “Even More Organic” in the European Union

Up until 2012, an “organic wine” was a wine “produced from organic viticulture”, which means that the grapes were grown organically, without pesticides, weedkillers or chemical fertilisers. Only the grapes were thus certified organic. In February 2012, however, the EU changed laws governing the “organic wine” label. Now, in order to be certified, not only do the grapes have to be organic, but so does the method of vinification. Brussels now requires a “cleaner” vinification with, for instance, lower amounts of sulphur in comparison with traditional wines. For organic, dry red wines, the maximum dose of sulphur permitted is 100mg/L whereas the maximum in conventional agriculture is 150mg/L – limits which are still very high. It’s important to remember that an organic wine is not the same as natural wine, though it can of course be both. Rules also stipulate that only organic additives are allowed; for other additives, such as malic acid, they are simply forbidden.

Biodynamic Wine: a Level Up with utmost Respect for Mother Nature

In order to obtain biodynamic certification from Demeter or Biodyvin, two of the best-known labels, producers must first be certified organic (or be in the process of gaining certification). Organic and biodynamic therefore share some common ground, though biodynamic methods go much further in that it impacts the ecosystem of the entire vineyard. It is a much more holistic approach, aspiring to foster agriculture that is in harmony with Mother Nature, and does include some spiritual elements. Natural materials, soils, and composts are used to sustain the vineyard, while chemical fertilisers and pesticides are forbidden. A range of animals from ducks to horses to sheep should live on the soil, creating a rich, fertile environment for the vines to grow in. Some principles of biodynamics are controversial today; its proponents are sometimes said to be fanatics, yet for many wine enthusiasts, organic and biodynamic wines have the upper hand on their conventional counterparts in their organoleptic qualities.

Natural Wine: a Matter of Sulphites

Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no such thing as a wine without sulphur. In fact, the fermentation process itself – as the yeast transforms the sugar into alcohol – produces SO2 (Sulphur dioxide). “Natural” wine is supposed to contain very few added sulphites, or none at all. For some natural wine producers, the aim is to never add more than 40mg/L to white wines and no more than 30mg/L to red wines; for others, it means adding no sulphites at all.

Does Organic Sell at Wine at Auction? The long answer from iDealwine, the world’s no.1 online wine auctioneer.
Ph. iDealWine

Global consumption is constantly growing

Global consumption of organic wine is constantly growing with an estimated 976 million bottles sold in 2022, which is an increase of 4.4% compared to the year before. This figure represents 3.5% of the bottles sold across the whole world (which amounts to around 28 billion) compared to 1.5% in 2013. What is more, the production of wine from conventional agriculture, i.e. from non-organic vines, is decreasing, according to Statista and IWSR.

Is the same interest in organic wine, both production and consumption, mirrored if we narrow the scope to only fine wine? Does organic wine sell at auction?

The short answer, for those in a hurry, is yes.

Does Organic Sell at Wine at Auction? The long answer from iDealwine, the world’s no.1 online wine auctioneer.
Ph. iDealWine

Does Organic Sell at Auction? The long answer

The long answer, for those who want to know more, is of course, it’s complicated. Broadly speaking, secondary market data for 2023 shows a positive trajectory for organic and biodynamic wines, with the share of auction value going from 25% in 2022 to 28.5% in 2023. This is up from 17% in 2018, a huge leap in such a short space of time. Natural wine (some of which is likely to have been included in the data for organic and biodynamic wine) saw its share remain stable at around 6.5%. The secondary market, via auctions, is an efficient way to examine the fine wine market as a whole. The auction data from iDealwine, the world’s no.1 online wine auctioneer, is indicative of the sector due to the volume of wine that goes under the hammer, over 220,000 bottles in 2023. But does increasing popularity of organic wine in fine wine auctions mean that it is a prerequisite for collectors? In fact, this trend appears to be “more producer-driven than consumer-led”, says Angélique de Lencquesaing, co-founder of iDealwine, as more and more top-level wine producers move to become certified organic, most notably Château Latour in Bordeaux, and Leroy and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy.

Unsurprisingly, the preference of collectors for prestigious wine regions, particularly Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and Champagne, means the data is skewed to reflect this. Organic vines cover just 15% of the surface area of Burgundy, but 31% of the value of the wine from this region sold at auction on iDealwine is organic. In Provence, where there are fewer challenges for organic winemakers, 43% of the total winegrowing area produces organic wine, and a startling 75% of fine wines that went under the hammer from the southern French region were labelled as such.

When we look at auction records for last year, it will come as no surprise to enthusiasts that there is a strong link between the highest-priced wines at auction, those that are organic, and those from Burgundy. Are these wines fetching high prices at auction because their wine is organic? Or is it because growing wine organically shows winemakers’ dedication to their craft and a commitment to the environment that shines through in the finished product? Attesting to the notion that this trend producer-driven rather than consumer led, we’re inclined to think the latter.

Does Organic Sell at Wine at Auction? The long answer from iDealwine, the world’s no.1 online wine auctioneer.