The “tide is turning” for organics and biodynamics
By Sophie Preece, as printed in the July edition of WINEPRESS magazine.
The content of the fourth Organic and Biodynamic Winegrowing Conference was diverse and deep, ranging from soil microbiology and carbon sequestration to burgeoning food allergies and growing markets.
Clive Dougall, owner of Organic Wine Solutions and part of the Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ) organising committee, said earlier conferences had focussed on speaking candidly about how to be organic, with practitioners sharing knowledge and experiences. “Now we have three days of speakers talking about the intricacies of the health of our soil, our environment and people, our pathways to the market and messaging and opportunities. That’s a really great indication of how far we have come.”
While organic and biodynamic wine by volume makes up about 6% of the total wine made in New Zealand, “it seems to make up 100% of the marketing material New Zealand Winegrowers pump out”, he told the audience when opening the conference. “That says a lot. That’s the image we want for New Zealand; that’s what we deserve; that’s what Kiwis want too. I truly believe the tide is turning.”
There was talk of vineyard pests, beneficial insects and dung beetles (see pg 17) at the sold out conference, along with long-term research comparing conventional, organic and biodynamic practices, and guidance from market experts on consumer demand, supplier transparency and short attention spans.
There were also practical and inspirational talks from vineyard and winery practitioners, outlining their route to organic success. They ranged from small New Zealand growers, knee deep in organics, to representatives from Emiliana Organic Vineyards, the largest biodynamic and organic winegrowers in the world, with 20 years of experience working at scale.
Clive described the Chilean company as a “utopia” when introducing the sustainability manager Sebastian Tramon, who talked to the audience about organics being “an opportunity, not a slogan”. Emiliana has 1,300 hectares of vineyard over six valleys in Chile, 283 employees, and exports to 60 countries. At one stage organics was niche, said Emiliana chief executive Cristian Rodriguez, but “it’s not niche any more”.
OWNZ marketing and events manager Stephanie McIntyre says demand for the conference exceeded expectation, with a Taste and Tunes evening event at 5Tapped sold out two months in advance, followed soon after by the International Wine Bunker tasting that wrapped up the event. The conference itself, which had increased capacity from 300 in 2017 to 350 this year, sold out two weeks before the speakers landed in Marlborough.
She says the audience was a good mix of conventional and organic, so it wasn’t simply a case of preaching to the (literally) converted. “For us ultimately, the goal is to encourage more people to convert. Even if it’s not to become certified, it’s about changing one process,” Stephanie says. After the 2017 event, OWNZ surveyed attendees and asked conventional growers if they would change at least one thing after attending the sessions, “and 82% of them said ‘yes’.