We didn’t go out of our way to find organic wine to join this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend discussion of the topic. In fact, we rarely look for the organic label when buying wine. But most of the low intervention wines we gravitate toward, including those we fly back from our trusty caviste in Toulouse, Le Temps des Vendanges, tend to have the “vin biologique” stamp on the bottle. And then even those that don’t have it practice some form of serious sustainable farming, but have not sought to be officially certified.
The green wine puzzle
Whether you buy organic food or not, you are aware that it often costs more than conventional alternatives. And as you look for them (or try to stay away), the signage is really in your face. But organic wine is a strange case. Wine economist (there is such a thing) Magali Delmas from UCLA has published several articles with various co-authors, that, taken together, point to what she called a “green wine puzzle.” One of her older papers found that among California wineries who used organic-certified grapes, two-thirds didn’t put the label on the bottle! Interview data revealed they were afraid of consumers’ stigma against organic wine. Delmas confirmed that they had reasons to be concerned indeed, when, in another study, she presented consumers with a choice experiment. While study participants preferred organic wine when spending less than $15, if they were to spend more, they preferred to look for non-organic wines to get “the real deal.” In another piece, she looked at market prices and found that while eco-certification was associated with higher prices, it was not the case of eco-labeling! The article mentions a priceless quote from the founder of Frog’s Leap winery in California, who, in 2006, said that “We don’t want to be known as the organic winery of the Napa Valley.”
Much seems to have changed of course since then. Organic wine certifications are far more visible today and wineries often proudly tell you about them. Perhaps more recent research by Delmas and her colleague Olivier Gergaud from Kedge Business School in Bordeaux (there’s a worldwide army of wine economists) has contributed a little bit to this change, as their results have been widely picked up and turned into click-bait headlines by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Le Monde, and more. Their 2016 study used data from over 74,148 Californian wines rated by Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiasts. And they showed that scores were significantly higher for organic certified wines compared to conventional wines, even after controlling for various confounding factors. And then less than a week ago, Le Monde picked up their newest peer-reviewed publication, this time focusing on 128,182 wines rated in three major French wine magazines. This time, they not only found that organic and biodynamic certified wines scored better than conventional ones (again, controlling for other factors), but also that “self-declared” sustainable wines (i.e. not certified by a third party) didn’t score any better than conventional wines.
Followers of the Wine Pairing Weekend group may already have heard all this, as today’s host, Gwendolyn Alley, wrote about these studies a few months ago, and they have been widely picked up in the media. But what you might not have seen is how angry some people get about this! And this has been happening again in the last few days since Le Monde wrote about the French wine study and interviewed Delmas and Gergaud about it. One prominent French wine writer’s Facebook post, that spoke positively about the results, erupted in an insane fight in the comment thread, with other educated grown men, including big wine media names, attacking the study, without having read it (nor having any intention of ever bothering to). Without quoting exactly, comments were to effect of: “This is non sense!” “They’re economists, not expert tasters, what do they know!” “Clearly biased!” “Lies!” “They don’t even know the scientific method, but I do! They haven’t considered x y z…” It went on and on for days.
But yes, Delmas and Gergaud have considered x y z, and much more. There’s plenty to debate and pick apart in their work if you’re so inclined, but you can’t just call them incompetent and criticize them by typing with two thumbs while lying in bed. Peer-reviewers in economics journals (and colleagues at seminars and conferences) are ruthless about the risk of bias in the data and confounding factors. So, much of an economics paper, once past the punchline, is written in arcane language using terms like “instrumental variables or “propensity score matching.” The bulk of an econ paper serves to make the argument that confounders have been seriously considered before drawing conclusions from the data. Here’s a cartoon explaining the basics of this serious problem, and it’s even more important to understand it when you discuss education, unemployment, or… vaccines.
Well, seriously, we didn’t expect to find you reading this far. Thanks to both of you! And in the unlikely event that you watched the video, please let us know in the comments, so you can get extra credit and even a waiver of your final exam. Now, at last, on to wine, and food!
The wine: Le Vendangeur Masqué
Our organic wine for today is the Vendangeur Masqué (the masked grape picker!) 2019 by Alice et Olivier De Moor, who farm 10 hectares in Burgundy and have been certified organic since 2008 (some of the newer plots are under conversion). Our favorite Toulouse caviste explained that the reason for the name of this wine is that the grapes come not from their own vineyards, but instead are purchased from secret friends’ organic vineyards. With only 9 hectares of their own and difficult weather rather common in Chablis, this project helps them make ends meet in the event that something goes wrong on their land (and remember the frost disaster of 2021 in French vineyards!). One wine merchant described the 2018 vintage of the Vendangeur Masqué as tasting like “the best lemon pie you’ve ever had, with a saline twist.” This is spot on for the 2019 we had, too.
It wasn’t our first time enjoying a wine by the De Moors. A few weeks ago in Toulouse, we greatly enjoyed their “Sans Bruit” Sauvignon Blanc, labeled Vin de France but in fact made from the grapes of the AOC St-Bris.
The food: crêpes!
We were in the mood for something fun and interactive that involved playing at the table. So we made a crêpe dinner the way Pierre’s mom does, which means a stack of crêpes, and then a range of fillings for each diner to choose from. We’ve been making crêpe with soy milk lately, simply because that’s what Cynthia puts in her coffee, and it works remarkably well. All our choice of fillings, from ham and cheese, smoked salmon crème fraiche and dill, and leftover tomato sauce, worked perfectly with our Vendangeur Masqué. And since we used Coravin, we’ll do it again!
And of course, half way through the batch of crêpes for the main course, we added rum and vanilla for dessert (and breakfast!) crêpes.
Thank you to Gwendolyn from Wine Predator for hosting this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend’s extravaganza about organic wines. See the posts of all the #WinePW bloggers below for more on organic wine and food ideas.
- Robin Bell Renken brings Organic Wine – Sustainability and Beyond (Plus Recommendations and Pairings to Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Camilla Mann suggests Sustainably Sourced Seafood + Organic Wines: Rock Crab Claw Crêpes with Bonterra’s 2020 Chardonnay on Culinary Adventures with Camilla.
- Wendy Klik is Drinking and Dining Sustainably and Organically on A Day in the Life on the Farm.
- Terri Oliver Steffes sees Slow Wines and Organic Farming with Lettuce Grow at Our Good Life
- Nicole Ruiz Hudson presents a Chardonnay and Chicken Showdown: Chile vs. California on Somm’s Table
- David Crowley offers an Organic Wine Pairing with Veggie Burgers on Cooking Chat
- Linda Whipple suggests Vegan Black Bean Burgers and Organic Wine: a Planet-Conscious Pairing on My Full Wine Glass
- Cynthia and Pierre Ly present Mystery Organic Wine “Le Vendangeur Masqué” with Crêpes Dinner and Economics on Traveling Wine Profs
- Jennifer Gentile Martin considers Organic Wines with Pasta and Shrimp on Vino Travels
- Pinny Tam goes with “Organic White Wines: Bonterra Chardonnay, Cono Sur Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc Paired With Asian Vegan Dishes” on Chinese Food and Wine Pairings
- Martin Redmond offers Sustainable Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Paired with White Pizza on ENFYLZ Wine Blog.
- On Wine Predator, Sue Hill and Gwendolyn Alley have AmByth’s Natural Wines, Biodynamic Farming for the Future.