An estimated 300 people attended the International Biodynamic Wine Conference held on 6 and 7 May 2018 in San Francisco. The conference, hosted by Demeter USA, leaned heavily toward the grower side but there was also a buzz centered on the market for biodynamic wines, especially trends that appear positive for those wines.
A highlight for many attendees was the A Place at the Table: Wine in the [Biodynamic] Marketplace, a breakout session led by Elizabeth Candelario, president of Demeter USA. She cited evidence that market trends are favoring both biodynamic and organic wines. “People are starting to make the connection between the agricultural method and product quality,” she said, adding that chefs “are making that connection, too.”
Sommelier and restaurateur Emily Johnston, one of the panelists, agreed. She commented that the strong terroir connection of biodynamic wines have opened up room on the wine lists of better restaurants.
Panelist Mark Cuff, owner of The Living Vine, a wine import company in Toronto that deals only in biodynamic, organic and natural wines, said millennials are having a strong impact on the biodynamic sector because of their focus on good health. He noted that this is a demographic that is drinking less and spending more and that market research indicates that consumers are willing to pay more for both biodynamic and organic wines.
It is clear that the rapid growth of digital social networks has had a great impact on wine marketing overall. Candelario said out that the impact on biodynamic wines is especially strong because so many producers are relatively small and the ‘little guys’ can have a bigger impact without heavy spending on traditional marketing.
“The rise of a new tier of influencers in the trade – bartenders, sommeliers and others – has made traditional media less important to branding and bringing new products to market,” Candelario said.
During the question and answer session, several attendees said that it was time the marketing focused on the quality of the wine in the bottle and to move away from the more sensationalist ideas around biodynamic wines.
The panel all agreed that, in general, consumers want to know more about the food and drinks they buy. Telling a story has always been an important part of selling wine – the story behind the brand. In that respect, selling biodynamic wines is no different than selling traditional wines.
It may be important to keep talking about what biodynamic is, however, as a way of differentiating the wines in the market.
Marimar Torres, who was not an attendee, is one who considered the biodynamic option for her Marimar Estate winery in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. In the end, she opted for certification as sustainable instead. The California Wine Institute defines sustainability as “using vineyard and winery practices that conserve water and energy, maintain healthy soil, protect air and water quality, enhance relations with employees and communities, preserve local ecosystems and wildlife habitat, and improve the economic vitality of vineyards and wineries.”
Torres says that she believes that sustainability is the key. “There is consumer confusion over what is organic, what is biodynamic. Can you tell them apart?”
A fair question.