Sustainability Is a Growing Factor in Wine Purchasing

New research, commissioned by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), shows that a majority of the U.S. wine trade considers sustainability when making purchasing decisions and expects demand to increase over the next decade. The research, conducted by market research firm Wine Opinions and presented at a press briefing at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento today, confirms what wineries active in sustainability programs have been reporting for years: Demand for sustainably produced wine has increased over the past 5 to 10 years and is likely to continue to grow over the next decade.

The Wine Opinions findings are based on responses from 457 members of its national trade panel (including distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, media) surveyed in late 2016 about sustainable practices, certifications, and wine sustainability programs. Respondents represented 36 states, including California (26%), New York (13%), Texas, Florida, Oregon and Virginia (4‑7% each).

According to the survey, a majority of trade respondents in the wholesale, on-and off-premise tiers either frequently (21%) or occasionally (52%) consider sustainable practices when selecting wines. The leading reasons are response to consumer demand, personal interest or as a selling feature, with the emphasis varying depending on the tier of distribution.

Environmental attributes rank high as necessary features of sustainable winegrowing with respondents citing integrated pest management (85%), conserving water (79%), and protecting natural resources (77%) as defining attributes of sustainability.

Although not seen as required by a majority, many respondents also view economic viability – of wineries and vineyards – as an important feature of sustainable winegrowing (84%) and emphasize that the social elements of sustainability (71%) are a significant component. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of U.S. trade respondents feel that verification by an independent third party is an important aspect of sustainability.

“The trade’s interest in sustainably grown and produced wines is a positive for the California wine industry, which has adopted sustainable practices on a large scale,” said Allison Jordan, Executive Director of CSWA. “With over 2,000 California winegrape growers and winemakers participating in the CSWA program, representing nearly 70% of the state’s wine acreage and 80% of case production, California has one of the most widely adopted sustainable winegrowing programs in the world in terms of wine acreage and case production.”

CSWA also recently revamped the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE) program to enable use of the certification logo on wine bottles. Certified participants were previously only permitted to use the logo on secondary marketing materials.

Following 18 months of development, including more than a dozen meetings by industry and outside experts and a Public Comment period, certification program updates were approved by the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG), Wine Institute and CSWA Board of Directors. The program requires certification of both vineyard (grapes) and winery to carry the CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE logo on bottles so the first wines should start appearing in the market following the 2017 harvest in California.

In fact, in 2015, 25% of the statewide acreage and 64% of the statewide case production were certified by Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing, Lodi Rules, Napa Green and/or Sustainability in Practice. These 1,511 certified vineyards encompass 184,199 acres (74,543 hectares), and the 131 certified wineries produce 172.9 million wine cases. In addition, many vineyards and wineries are certified Biodynamic, California Green Business Program, Fish Friendly Farming or Organic.

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