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Why Are Sustainable Wines So Expensive?
By Sandra Taylor
Apr 26, 2022
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In December 2019, American adults had finally come around to the conclusion that climate change was the number one issue facing society.  But in a survey taken in late July 2020, concern for climate had fallen to second from last place, far behind COVID 19.  Many scientists concur that climate change is completely “locked in,” i.e., it isn’t going away; the choice now is how we respond and adapt to its certain threat.  

For wine, environmental sustainability will continue to shape the future quite dramatically, somewhat out of necessity.  Growers and winemakers see commitments to climate action as a critical strategic priority – even as they deal with the pandemic.  In this case, resilience requires adaptation.  Every winegrower faces the immediate consequences of climate change.  They realize that their continued success depends on rethinking their business models in the face of climate-related events.  These events represent a clear and present danger, not a future risk.

Consumers have a crucial role to play in achieving a more sustainable world.  Consumers today are more and more aware of the social and environmental impact of the products and services they buy and use.  When consumers make purchase decisions that favor wines that are environmentally and socially responsible, ultimately the result will be more resilient farming communities, healthier workers, balanced ecosystems, stronger commitment to social responsibility and economic vitality for producers.

Nielsen research in 2015 showed that 66% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands.  Of millennials, 72% were willing to pay more for sustainable products.  Nielsen Research in 2019 concluded that consumers care about the environment; they worry about the planet, and they look for sustainable options in the products they choose to buy.  Consumers are increasingly factoring in a product's sustainability attributes into their purchasing behavior.  73% of consumers surveyed say they are willing to change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact.  

Wine Intelligence, a London based research firm, in its report “Consumer Perceptions of Sustainable Wine,” released June 2020, shared key takeaways regarding the US wine market:

--Gen Z & Millennials are willing to trade convenience for environmental credentials;

--Increasing awareness of sustainably produced wine;

--Younger consumers significantly more engaged with sustainable wine, viewing it as increasingly important to protect the future.

A survey of 10,000 consumers across 17 countries by a UK consultancy in July 2021 found 60 percent rated sustainability as an important purchase criterion.  More encouragingly, a survey of 1,200 U.S.  consumers from October 2021 found 75-to-80 percent willing to pay higher prices for sustainable items across food and drink, apparel, and household products categories.  A July 2021 survey of more than 1,000 U.S.  consumers found 68 percent willing to pay more for sustainable products, up from 58 percent from a 2019 survey.

Yet the reality often proves otherwise.  Research also shows that when these consumers come to check out, they often go for the lower priced items that fit within their budgets.  

In my own research for an upcoming book, I have conducted interviews with younger consumers -- millennials and GenXers – who tell me they want to buy sustainably produced or organic wine, but they ask, why are sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines so expensive?

Initially you would assume that without the cost of chemicals, herbicides and pesticides organic wines would experience a cost savings that could be passed on to the consumer.  Without diving too deeply into an economics lesson for our readers, it is important to understand that the cost of these inputs is just part of the answer.  Actually, it is more expensive to produce an organic wine.  This is due to the fact that organic growers have lower yields.  Most winegrowers, however, hope that sustainable practices will be rewarded in the marketplace — that consumers will pay higher prices for sustainably-produced wines, not demand a discount.  Environmental sustainability needs to be economically sustainable to survive.

Perhaps wines that are certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic do command a price premium in the marketplace that compensates the grower and winery for their added costs and labor, but what about the young consumer who wants to “shop their values” and buy sustainable wines within their budgets?

So, I have set out to identify wines that are more affordable, sustainably produced, certified   sustainable or organic and that are good quality.  And by good quality, I mean they taste good.  Admittedly this taste factor is subjective and reflects my own preferences!  Also, I have sought out wines under $20, a price threshold which may still seem high to some consumers, but here are a few of my recommendations:

1.) Campo Viejo Rosé 2021 ($10) is a pale Rosé reminiscent of Côte de Provence but inspired by the Campo Viejo house style; aromatic and fruit forward, it’s an homage to summer that evokes freshness and jovial relaxation – great wine as the summer season is approaching!  Campo Viejo is committed to sustainable winemaking.  The winery is a one-of-a-kind production facility in Rioja which is grounded in the principles of sustainable development, and is a balance between oenology, architecture, and the local environment.  It was the first Spanish winery to certify its carbon footprint through AENOR, a true reflection of their commitment to make their land a place to enjoy for generations to come.  

2.)  Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($12) is harvested early from specially selected blocks of fruit, when full flavor ripeness at lower sugar levels were reached.  It is great crisp wine for summer that can be enjoyed alone or best paired with seafood / small bites.  Brancott Estate is very invested in sustainable practices and is a founding member of New Zealand's original sustainable winegrowing initiative established in 1995.  This program has since transformed into Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ).  Their sustainable efforts help honor and protect New Zealand's unique and diverse ecosystem

3.)  Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Colchagua Valley 2021 ($15):  Sourced from Ucúquer Vineyard, located in the arid hillsides of the Rapel River in Colchagua Valley, 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean

4.)  Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($12):  Fruit from Aconcagua—which stretches inland from the coast above San Antonio—Valle Central, and Región de Coquimbo compose the final blend.

5.)  Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut NV, Sonoma County, CA ($20):  Produced exclusively with hand-picked grapes, this Cuvée was put on the American market for the first time in 1985.  It is prepared according to the traditional method.  Its bouquet with pear aroma distinguishes it from other sparkling wines and the fruity aroma lends it an initial effervescence which culminates in a lingering, creamy effect.  85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay.

6.)  Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, 2019 Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, NY ($16):  Lean and racy, jagged with minerality when first poured.  With air, a limey core of flavor inhabits its middle, tense but with a modest breadth, to cut against mildly spicy dishes.  

7.)  Cline Family Cellars, 2019 Sonoma Coast Syrah ($20) offers generous aromas of black pepper, coffee and berry.  On the palate, flavors of boysenberry and olive and are complimented by notes of summer savory and a meaty character.  Well integrated and structured tannins are perfectly balanced by the wine's fresh acidity.  The finish has excellent length and complexity.  This wine is a great match for grilled Salmon and sautéed vegetables served over pasta.