16 December 2020
Estimated reading time: 5 min.

Sustainability: Communicating the Ethical Wine Movement to your Customers

Over the past decade sustainability has gone from being a fringe issue to being an integral part of the decision-making process for government, businesses and individuals alike. The momentum is continuing to build, and a huge increase in awareness for the need for urgent action against the threat of climate change has prompted the rise of sustainable wine.


It is no surprise that this has resulted in many individuals in the UK looking to make small but meaningful changes to their lifestyle, often starting with scrutinising what they eat and drink. Wine has not escaped such scrutiny and it is clear that producers and retailers have an opportunity to build long-term commercial success around sustainable wine. Indeed, a Soil Association report published in January notes that sales of organic wine in the UK increased by 47% in 2019. Organic Market 2020, Soil Association Organic, January 2020.

While UK consumers clearly hold an affinity for sustainable wine, their understanding of what makes a wine sustainable, compared to other factors that may influence purchase such as the grape variety or region, is relatively low.

To bridge the gap between producers making wine in line with environmental practices and consumers keen to know more and review their purchasing habits, we examine how UK wine business owners can communicate on sustainability. We explore how they can raise the profile of sustainable wine in their range and increase their sales.


Kick Off the New Year by Making the Most of Veganuary

For many, January will mark the start of another Veganuary. In 2020 over 400,000 people signed up to go Vegan for the month and more are set to register in 2021. Not only are more people choosing to adopt a plant-based lifestyle long-term but such campaigns are also raising awareness and interest in products such as vegan wine.

The production of vegan-certified wines has increased significantly in Bordeaux over the past ten years as a logical extension of the sustainability movement. With its large and diverse vineyard, the region offers an exceptionally broad selection of vegan wines, from sparkling Crémant to dry whites and fruit-forward reds.

Get ready for January by identifying your vegan wine range clearly to your customers and team, making sure that you are familiar with the vegan winemaking process and are able to talk about it knowledgeably.


Tell the story and drive brand loyalty

 According to a 2019 survey by CGS, sustainable business practices were the second most important influence on driving brand loyalty after a product’s quality. In fact, 68% of consumers say they’re motivated to be loyal to a brand if they know they share the same values.

We know that there is consumer interest in a wine’s sustainable and ethical credentials but communicating them can be challenging. Ambassadors, brand managers, sommeliers and wine merchants must become adept at building stories around sustainability as opposed to relying too heavily on data; messages need to be kept simple, relatable and, to a degree anecdotal. Consumers are unlikely to understand the intricacies of sulphur levels, but will, for example, respond to stories of the reintroduction of bats into Bordeaux vineyards to help forego insecticides.  As consumer understanding increases, businesses that bring to life their sustainability initiatives, may find they have a distinct advantage when it comes to increasing their sales. For further insight on boosting sales read our latest article.


Go beyond the plot

Biodiversity is a talking point consumers can comfortably understand and develop an affinity for. The vision of biodiversity now goes beyond the plots to consider the vineyard’s immediate surroundings and the wider ecosystem. To promote a good balance and to avoid single-crop farming centred on grapevines, various initiatives have been implemented by the winegrowers and encouraged by the CIVB: planting hedges, trees, forests, installing insect hotels, low walls, and cabins. These are all components that cultivate places of refuge for wildlife in the vineyards, a theme that will resonate with many consumers. Make sure that you are familiar with relevant initiatives undertaken by vineyards that you represent.


A sustainable wine business goes beyond what’s in the bottle

A company’s CSR policy has become increasingly important to consumers so being able to explain your business’s policy is a must. Adopting the principles of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) means seeking strong economic performance while being aware of the business’s social, societal and environmental impacts. For you as wine business owners, this may include considerations from packaging to your hiring process: aligning with what matters to your customers is the best way to build brand loyalty.

For Bordeaux, corporate social responsibility is based on 4 key commitments, all of which can and should be communicated to consumers:

  • Preserving terroirs, with respect for the environment e.g. the move towards carbon neutrality, preserving biodiversity, etc.
  • Building an attractive region e.g. encouraging constructive and peaceful dialogue, promoting the culture of wine, encouraging responsible purchasing, highlighting the sector’s practices and commitments to the inhabitants of the regions, etc.
  • Committing to the long-term e.g. health and safety and improving the quality of life at work, facilitating the transfer of companies, facilitating access to employment through training and talent development, supporting equality and diversity, etc.
  • A sector that anticipates and is open to the world around it e.g. innovation and R&D, promoting responsible consumption, product transparency from the vine to the consumer, etc.


Know the certifications

 In Bordeaux, a growing number of winegrowers are turning to environmental certifications and labels to have their commitments officially recognised. In 2019, more than 65% of the Bordeaux vineyard area had a certified environmental approach, vs 35% in 2014: and 55% in 2016.

As a growing number of consumers aligns with sustainable principles and become increasingly knowledgeable on the subject, it is vital that ambassadors, sommeliers, and wine merchants stay one step ahead. With so many certifications out there, fully understanding them is essential for you and your team. For example, a wine sold as biodynamic to a customer, but perhaps with a less rigid sustainable certification, may leave them feeling cheated. Understanding the detail between different certifications is even more important for vegan and vegetarian wines.

Because of the diversity of the vineyard, and the range of production and protection methods, many properties in Bordeaux have multiple certifications. Key certifications include:

Agence Bio

This is the primary organic certification. As of 2018, 608 properties were certified organic or in the process of conversion with 10,800 hectares (+26% vs 2017 by area)

Demeter & Biodyvin

These are the key biodynamic certifications, as of 2018, 49 Bordeaux properties covering a total of 900 hectares were certified biodynamic (+5% vs 2017 by area)

HVE (high environmental value)

HVE was created in 2012 in France and corresponds to the highest level of environmental certification for farms. This farm certification is a voluntary approach built around four environmental issues: protection of biodiversity, crop-protection strategy, fertilisation management and water management. As of 2019, nearly 1000 winemaking properties in Bordeaux were certified HVE.

Other well-known integrated certifications include Terra Vitis and ISO 14 001.

To find out more about consumer trends in the UK catch up on the Bordeaux Means Business Webinar – Current Consumer Trends in the UK

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