It is with grave determination, Dear Readers, that I go about my task to delve deep into every aspect of the green marketing world. So despite any risks to my personal health that may ensue, the mysterious realm of organic alcoholic beverages will not elude my scrutiny. Herewith are some explorations to date, along with the usual nutty design critiques and dry observations of missed marketing opportunity.

First of all, when it comes to wine, there is significant debate about what is considered ‘organic’. At its most basic level, organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. When a label says “organic,” it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by a government agency. Different nations have their own certification criteria and many wineries that are technically organic choose not to be certified. Some do not want the added costs and bureaucracy of registering. It can also be a marketing decision. Whatever the case, they are not allowed to use “organic” on their labels. Organic wines are not necessarily sulfite-free. The use of added sulfites is debated heavily within the organic winemaking community. Many vintners favor their use, in extremely small quantities, to help stabilize wines, while others frown on them completely. In the United States, wines labeled “organic” cannot contain added sulfites. Wines that have added sulfites, but are otherwise organic, are labeled “wine made from organic grapes. (source: Wikipedia)

Tasting and Marketing Notes:

Eco Trail Organic Wine: A Canadian wine from Pelee Island Winery (Canada’s southernmost winery), this vintage suffered no discernable difference in quality for its organic roots. While this blend of 84% Chambourcin, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon is perhaps not a richly-textured palette buster, it definitely lives up to its billing, with honest “characteristics of dried berry fruit and light cherry notes with fine tannins and vanilla aromas.” The package was nothing special, but the VQA designation definitely lends an air of reassurance, in light of the possibility that the term ‘organic’ still carries some pretty fruity baggage. Cruising the Pelee Island web site, I discovered some interesting eco stories, including this tasty tidbit: “The winery recently purchased a red cedar savannah forest that is unique only to the island. Restoration efforts have saved the forest and allowed for new growth and the acclimatization of dozens of unique habitat. Moreover, the winery plans to engage a 5 year study that will facilitate the total rehabilitation of the forest.” For my money, that’s the kind of tale that deserves mention right on the bottle.

prosecco_veneto_tagsProsecco Veneto by Villa Teresa: This sparkling white wine positions itself against Champagnes as a celebration beverage, and would make a good conversation-starter with its distinctive ‘swing-top cap’ bottle. This in itself makes the package collectable and reusable for salad dressings, picnics or homemade juices etc. (IMHO, a missed opportunity to tell this story on the tag, and add value to the product) The tags do some work to describe the wine’s organic roots, although do not go as far as they could: “This Prosecco is made following a traditional vinification technique. The grapes are protected from parasites by applying the principles of organic agriculture, whithout (sic) fertilizers or pesticides.” Taste-wise, it offers a ‘clear straw yellow colour, with a rich bouquet of flowers and fruits, ‘in particular, unripe apples”. Try it for a holiday season gift basket, a summer picnic or launching your new solar-powered yacht.

A Notre Terre from Organic Wine Works: This is one of the only wines I tried so far that boasts ‘no sulfites’ in its manufacture, and I can’t say it did much to help the reputation of that distinction for me. Grape juice on a bender with a label to match.

Jean Bousquet Malbec: The Malbec is a nice, approachable grape, and although this wine is not labeled as organic, Jean Bousquet does use organic growing methods, largely because of the pristine location of the Argentinian winery. From their web site: “The area has idyllic wine-growing precipitation and temperatures, mild during the day and cool at night. It is also situated at a good altitude (1200 meters above sea level), with fresh air, few funguses, and very permeable sandy and rocky soils. All these great attributes give the grapes the possibility to attain an optimum maturation without the risk of rotting and without having to use fungicides.” Again, a nice story too deeply buried. 


Deep Creek Z3 by Hainle Vineyards: This label is also bad, but it masks a really good bottle of wine. Complex and dry, with some of the ‘tobacco-box’ overtones I like in an Italian wine like Velletri. Not cheap though, in the $25 range. I notice now that this line of wines is not heavily promoting the organic distinction. Could this be because of negative feedback? A winery tour and vintner interview could be called for.

Bonterra Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah: As part of the Fetzer group, Bonterra definitely seems to benefit from a more mainstream (and likely better-funded) marketing approach. The label design, while decidedly plain, has at least a professional quality of production and a family look about it. The web site is well developed, and offers some decent, if luxury-real-estate-ish rich-media flash features on organic farming techniques.

 Oh yeah, almost forgot – the wine is very good, also. Overall, perhaps a look into the future of mainstreaming the marketing for organic. One missed-opportunity story perhaps – they place birdhouses around the ranch to attract the birds that feed on pests. I’d like to see a birdhouse appear on a label somewhere…

On the beer side, organic essentially comes down to the hops and barley.

The Daily Green had a good bit on why that matters: “Many hops growers, particularly since the 1997 outbreak of the downy mildew fungus, have relied on the use of fungicides to maintain their crops. Hops are also typically grown with heavy use of chemical fertilizer. With 77 percent of the country’s hop crop grown in the Yakima Valley in Washington, one of the watersheds important for endangered steelhead, any reduction in fertilizer and pesticide runoff can’t be a bad thing for wild Pacific salmon.”

Mill Street Organic BeerMill Street Organic Beer: Interesting that the word ‘organic’ is the largest thing on the label. Their web site is graphically rich, though somewhat confusing, and it takes at least two more clicks (if you’re lucky) to find out more about the organic details, such as they are. “We adhere to rules that guarantee both the raw materials and brewing process are pesticide- and herbicide-free.” the site claims. Billed as Ontario’s first certified organic lager, the packaging design and clear glass bottle owe more to the ‘Miller High Life’ look than to modern green style. For me, it’s taste was also quite mainstream. Lacking the ‘hops-forward’ taste of European pilseners. Mill Street would be more at home at a retro backyard barbecue than a backwoods mountain beer festival. Take it to your old man’s retirement party and get the geezers to try ‘organic’.

Natureland Organic Amber Ale: Touted as ‘Canada’s first Organic Beer’, this hoppy ale also boasts USDA, OCIA and British Columbia organic certifications. The side panel tells us that it won a Gold Medal at the 2005 Brewing Industry International Awards in Munich, (a feat that must have severely annoyed some uber-perfectionist nationalistic Eurobrewers). It also highlights exactly what is organic about the product – 100% organic two-row malt and 100% organic hallertau hops. The beer itself is very flavourful, hoppy and even somewhat ‘dry’.

Natureland Organic AleA sophisticated taste experience beyond what the package design is able to promise. Who are the guys on the horses? And what’s with the ducks on the side? Alas, all too Canadian. And not in a good way. 

So how are organic products faring in our fair province?

I borrowed this interview from Bill Tielman’s excellent blog, The Wine Barbarian“David Hopgood, a senior portfolio manager for wine at the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, says BC wine drinkers are increasingly lifting a glass of organic wine. “In BC, it’s a very healthy category. We’re experiencing strong growth – it’s up to $3 million a year and it’s up 50 percent over the last year… It’s not just a BC phenomenon – you see it all over. But trends start here in BC. Look at the success of Capers, Choices; Safeway keeps expanding its organic section…” But with that said, Hopgood points out that there are only 23 organic wine listings out of the LDB’s roughly 2,500 available wines, plus a few organic beers, sakes and spirits.”

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