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No-alcohol & organic wines gaining popularity

With the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) celebrating its 100th anniversary, its new Director General, John Barker takes time out for an interaction with Bishan Kumar to focus on the role being played by the organisation in promoting wine culture across the globe. Challenge of climate change, the need for sustainability and India's potential in the wine sector were some of the important issues being discussed upon. He also informed that OIV is currently developing a framework of production standards for partially or totally de-alcoholised products.

By Spiritz Desk
New Update
John-Barker,-Director-General-OIV

Congratulations on OIV's centennial milestone! Do throw some light on the measures being undertaken by OIV to address climate change and evolving consumer preferences. Additionally, how do member states of OIV intend to navigate environmental and geopolitical challenges?

First, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to speak to Spiritz magazine on behalf of OIV, the international scientific and technical reference organisation for the vine and wine sector.

The 100th anniversary of the OIV is indeed a milestone! It is a chance to reflect on a century of achievements but also to renew our focus on the future. From just eight member countries in 1924, the OIV has grown to include 50 member countries and 18n observers from across the vine and wine sector - including India who joined in 2011. 

We currently represent 75 percent of the global vineyard surface area, 87 percent of world's wine production and 71 percent of world's wine consumption. We will welcome China as our 51st member in November this year. Further, this year we have sought to bring the world of vine and wine together to consider the challenges and opportunities ahead.

A meeting of ministers and officials from 29 countries was held in Italy in April, and a full ministerial conference will be held in France, in October of this year. At the same time, we will hold the 45th World Congress of Vine and Wine and inaugurate our new headquarters in Dijon, France.

These meetings will also provide the occasion for the launch of our new Strategic Plan for 2025-2029. This will focus on the works of the OIV on certain key issues facing the sector, such as sustainability and climate change, innovation, wine and society, the consumers of tomorrow, and international trade. Through this new Strategic Plan, the OIV will provide recommendations, guidance and information to support its members and the wine sector to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the future.

John Baker

The latest findings from OIV highlight a decrease in global wine consumption juxtaposed with increased trade value, which could be largely attributed to inflationary pressures. Could you shed light on the primary drivers behind this consumption decline and inflationary trends? Furthermore, what strategies are OIV proposing to counter this setback?

While recent events such as the Corona virus-triggered pandemic, international conflicts and high inflation have caused short-term fluctuations in the market, the longer-term trends are driven by the changing preferences of a new generation of consumers in increasingly diverse international markets. For example, red wine consumption has fallen, while sparkling wine and rosé are performing strongly.

Consumers are now more strongly interested in health and well-being, as well as environmental and social credentials, than ever before. Products such as no or low-alcohol wines and organic wines are gaining in popularity. We are also seeing regulatory pressure on wine producers as a result of increased concern about alcohol abuse, and the industry itself strongly supports moderate consumption. The OIV's key role in this area is to gather global data and provide analyses to help the sector understand the evolution of the market, and this will be a subject of focus for our next Strategic Plan.

How does climate change impact traditional grape-growing regions?

The impact of climate change on the vine and wine sector and the importance of sustainability are preeminent themes in the OIV work programme that we have been working on for many years. Climate change presents challenges across many aspects of grape growing and wine production - from the biology of the grapevine, to the risk of extreme weather, pests and diseases, to the flavour profile of the wine, to the preferences of consumers.

This has been very apparent in the 2023 global wine grape production volume, which was the lowest since 1961. This was due to droughts, floods and other extreme weather events in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Sustainability is a key responsibility for producers, and increasingly an expectation from consumers and sellers of wine. The OIV has a number of works currently underway in this area, including a draft resolution regarding the definition of resilience for the vitivini cultural sector, technical documents about carbon footprint, water footprint, eco-cellars, viticultural practices in arid climates, and the strategies of conserving nature and biodiversity in the vine-growing areas.

There is a growing sentiment that the global wine industry lacks adequate representation on global platforms. Does OIV perceive itself as the authoritative voice of the wine sector?

The OIV is an intergovernmental organisation - meaning its members are governments rather than the private sector. That is why it is sometimes called 'the UN of vine and wine'. Our mandate is strictly scientific and technical. We operate on the consensus of all our members. These factors define our role on the world stage. When our members make a consensus-based decision, that is certainly authoritative because it has the backing of 50 countries representing the majority of global wine production.

We promote and communicate the works of the OIV to member and non-member countries, other international organisations and the sector. Sometimes our efforts may not be evident to everyone in the sector because of the level at which we operate. But the OIV is always there providing an authoritative and objective viewpoint issues that affect the vine and wine sector at an international level.

Is there any guideline from OIV on communicating with their potential consumers with the required details given that there are many boutique producers of wine who are producing high-quality wines but are not able to showcase their brands on the global platforms due to limited resources?

The OIV has standards specifically related to labelling, and we have some collective expertise works on subjects pertaining to consumption. However, we do not make recommendations specifically on commercial matters such as marketing.

How do you perceive the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and India, as well as ongoing negotiations with the EU and other nations? Moreover, what role does OIV play in fostering a favourable regulatory and tax environment for wines globally?

We cannot comment on negotiations between countries and tax questions are outside our scientific and technical mandate. We foster a global regulatory framework that is conducive to trade by developing standards and guidance such as the International Code of Oenological Practices, the Compendium of International Methods of Must and Wine Analysis, the International Oenological Codex and the International Standard for the Labelling of Wines. 

Is OIV communicating with the Indian government on the reduction of high custom duty and what has been the latter's response so far?

As I mentioned before, it is not part of the OIV's mandate to discuss tax policies. From my point of view, the development of the Indian wine market should go hand-in-hand with the development of its local wine production.

Wine is a value-added product that is an important vector for rural development, tourism and the promotion of regional identities, and so it holds great potential for India. I know that India has a long history of wine production, although like many other countries it suffered from the phylloxera blight in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The re-emergence of Indian wine production is very promising, and we also recognise that India is a strong producer of table grapes and raisins, which are also within our mandate.

Most of the spirits manufacturers are eyeing India as a market with huge potential because of the large population and growing disposable incomes. Are you also working on a strategy to build a wine culture in India?

We would love to see wine production and wine consumption grow and flourish in India! We don't have strategies that deal specifically with individual countries.

However, I would like to emphasise that we are currently developing a framework of production standards for partially or totally de-alcoholised products. This framework should foster new products and open new perspectives for non alcoholised beverage drinkers while discovering the wine culture.

Building upon the legacy of your predecessor, Pau Roca, which issues take precedence on your agenda?

In addition to the strategic objectives mentioned above, and taking inspiration from the ambitions of Ex. Director General, Pau Roca, I have made it a priority to make sure that OIV as an organisation has the right structures, processes and scale to face the next 100 years. One element that is very important for the OlV is to have an inclusive organisation that brings together all parts of the global economy, which is why it is essential for us to have the perspectives and interests of India represented in our organisation.

We are also delighted that China has now deposited its official membership request, which will come into effect on November 14, according to our rules. As the country with the third-largest vineyard surface area and the eighth-largest wine consumer, China is a key player in the global vine and wine sector.

We will also continue to work to grow our membership so that the sector can work together to progress the interests that all countries share in common like climate change and sustainability.