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A guide to wine certification, Germany’s ice wine shortage and wine in the time of COVID-19

Ice wine grapes

Explaining the difference: A guide to wine certification

The numerous labels, logos and certifications on wine bottles have led to extensive confusion among consumers. What’s better, organic or biodynamic? What exactly is biodynamic wine? Should my wine be B-Corp certified? Writing for VinePair, Emma Balter has put together a quick and easy guide for navigating the arena of wine certifications. We’ve briefly outlined these below:

Organic

The key classification for organic wine is that it does not use any synthetic chemical products. For a wine to be certified organic, all the materials used in its production must also be organic. If this is not the case, the wine is labelled “made with organically grown grapes.” In regards to added sulfites, these are banned from organic wine in the U.S., whereas EU law allows small amounts.

Biodynamic

Whilst biodynamic viticulture is organic, its practices are far more complex. As Balter explains, these include using an astronomy calendar to time farming actions “such as when to prune, water and pick” as well as using “homemade compost-based fertilizers.” The main biodynamic certification comes from Demeter.

SIP Certified 

Sustainability in Practice (SIP) was established as certification in California in 2008 and has recently expanded to other parts of the U.S. Balter describes this certification as one that “ adopts planet-friendly principles like water management, energy efficiency, and healthy vineyards. Some chemicals are permitted, such as copper and glyphosate, but are heavily restricted. SIP is also equally preoccupied with people, making sure its winery members are treating employees ethically and providing them with things like competitive wages and medical insurance.”

Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW)

Created in 2010 by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, the CCSW certification also takes a step beyond organic farming to consider a more holistic approach to sustainability in the vineyard. Balter quotes Stephanie Honig, sales and communication director at CCSW-certified Honig Vineyard, who elaborates on the benefits of CCSW: “Organic is great…but it says nothing about your water efficiency, your energy efficiency, your recycling practices, the weight of your glass.”

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

LEED certification takes a different approach to the above. Traditionally used for residential buildings, this certification focuses on “‘green’ design and architecture of a facility.” Balter references owner of LEED-certified Red Tail Ridge Winery, Nancy Irelan, who turned to LEED-certification out of concerns for energy savings and the aim to improve the bottom line through alternative energy use. 

B Corporation

Finally Balter discusses B Corporation, a company-wide certification focused on both social and environmental standards. Since A to Z Wineworks became the first winery to become B Corp certified in 2014, an increasing number of vintners have joined the program.  Balter quotes Keith Scott, marketing director at A to Z Wineworks, who says, “I think for shoppers who don’t want to become an expert on every last certification, it’s a good overall stamp.”

Read more in the article here.

Germany’s precious ice wine sees a shortage this year

It’s no secret that climate change is having a significant impact on the wine industry. Writing for Reuters, Chambers turns our attention to how warmer temperatures have resulted in a shortage of ice wine in Germany this year. Commonly drunk as a dessert wine, ice wine only makes up 0.1% of Germany’s harvest. After Germany’s second warmest winter since 1881, only one winemaker was able to successfully harvest ice wine grapes to produce a small quantity of the already precious wine.

Weingut Zimmerle in Korb, southern Germany, managed to produce 100 litres of Riesling ice wine. Chambers quotes Zimmerle who describes the unique nature of ice wine production: “What’s special about ice wine is that certain conditions must exist in order to press it: one is a minimum temperature of minus 7 degrees Celsius (19.4 degrees Fahrenheit).” As the frozen grapes are pressed before they thaw, very little amounts are produced resulting in a higher price, ranging from 20 euros per bottle to several hundred euros. 

Chambers further quotes Zimmerle who highlights how the earlier harvesting season favours red wine production over ice wine: “We are now able to produce expressive heavy red wines and through the climate change phenomenon we no longer have these cold periods which are essential to make ice wine,” he says. Read more here.

Wine in a time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 outbreak has rapidly transformed the world.  Quoting French President Macron, we are fighting an “invisible, elusive, advancing” enemy.  Industries are forced to find ways to cope and adapt as countries are forced to impose quarantines, sending economies reeling. The wine industry is no different. Wineries are faced with both personal and professional challenges. 

Across the globe the effective closure of the hospitality industry has made producers increasingly dependent on exports and sales to food retailers. Wineries are finding innovative ways to stay afloat and get wine to quarantined consumers.  Producers are turning to direct and online sales, finding increasingly innovative means to service customers. Wilson, writing for Decanter, quotes Adam Brett-Smith, Managing Director at Corney & Barrow who says, “it may be increasingly difficult to ‘eat out’ but we are very happy to help with your ‘drinking in.” 

Many in the wine industry will take a hit with the sudden halt in wine tourism and cancellation of wine industry events, necessitating change in their business models. For example, Bordeaux has put its wine futures on hold, the London Wine Fair has been postponed, and as has ProWein 2020, to name a few. The closure of tasting rooms has led to  multiple wineries around the world to turn to virtual-tasting rooms, using video-conferencing technologies to bring together consumers and run their wine tasting events. 

Technology will certainly play an exponentially important role  in facilitating the continued operations of many businesses. Writing for Wine Business International, Robert Joseph considers how this applies to the wine industry. In light of the ease of video conferencing technologies, he wonders why so many of us spend so much time travelling, asking questions such as, “why don’t wine producers hold weekly sessions for distributors and sales staff?” and “why don’t they hold them for consumers who’d love a bit of advice on food-and-wine matching?” 

Joseph describes how the wine industry has been relatively slow to exploit such technologies. He emphasizes how the “focus on the need to sit at a table and break bread together or to walk through the cellars or vineyard” has distracted the industry from finding ways for more efficient communication. However, “COVID-19 and the need to fight climate change which it has overshadowed, will force [the wine industry] to rethink.” 

In Italy, the country hit hardest by COVID-19, wineries continue to maintain low levels of operations with increased safety measures in place, reports Robert Camuto in his article for Wine Spectator. Spring has arrived one month early, and vineyards across Italy see staff cautiously undertaking “bottling and other essential tasks wearing protective masks and gloves and [disinfecting] the cellars nightly. At the same time, vineyard crews [work] at full speed outdoors, where there is a smaller chance of viral spread—finishing pruning, debudding and tying up vines while careful to practice ample distancing.”  Camuto quotes Chiara Boschis of Barolo’s E. Pira e Figli who says, “luckily we have the vineyards, because staying home like in a prison is depressing.”

The future remains uncertain and it is no doubt that tough times lie ahead.  Camuto quotes founder and president of sparkling wine Ca’ del Bosco, Maurizio Zanella, who believes there “will be a cleaning of the market…in wine and business in general.” This is echoed by Giampaolo Tabarrini, Montefalco Sagrantino producers, who stresses how “small producers that are not in mass distribution have to fight to survive.”  

Ultimately, however, the focus is on the important things. In her article for Wine Spectator,  Suzanne Mustacich quotes Yann Schÿler, CEO of Maison Schröder & Schÿler, who says “Globally, I am not worried. [The wine] will sell, sooner or later, but at this stage, no one can tell. Health first.”

Join 200 wine producers, distributors, traders, retailers and many others from the industry, at the Future of Wine Forum 2020, which takes place in London on November 26-27. Register or sign up for updates at: https://futurewineforum.com/. For regular media updates and analysis sign up on this site, above, for our weekly newsletter.