With unrest rife in French agriculture and wine growing circles, a message on Millésime Bio's website acknowledged “the current events and the road blockades that are taking place throughout France.”
It flagged up the show organisers' request to protestors not to block access during the fair, and pointed out that “no refunds will be given to exhibitors who are unable to attend the show.”
Slight decline in attendance
Prior to the show, organisers SudVinBio had been optimistic. “We're expecting over 11,000 visitors in three days, which would be a record, and it would be logical, because organic products are gaining market share,” declared Jeanne Fabre, Millésime Bio's president, in the show's press pack.
However, visitor figures for the 31st edition were announced as 9,600, a 6% decrease compared to 2023's record-breaking edition which had seen a 32% increase in attendance.
Growth in organic vineyards
France's organic vineyard surface area grew 5.1% year-on-year in 2022 and has doubled in the space of five years, reaching 170,806 ha including vineyards in conversion. This represents 21% of the country's vineyards and makes France the world's leading producer of organic wine, according to Agence Bio.
Interviewed after the show closed, Fabre commented: “Previously, we needed to produce more organic wine to meet the demands of export markets, and that's what we did. Today there's a decline in wine drinking in general, but less so for organic.”
“Consumers are buying less wine but they're moving towards quality products, and organic is part of this,” noted Fabre, citing French organic wine market growth of 6% in value / 1 % in volume (2022 figures).
The French Minister for Agriculture announced financial help for the country's winegrowers to the tune of €80 million and €150 million for a vine pull scheme.
On the third day of Montpellier's annual organic wine fair, the French Minister for Agriculture announced financial help for the country's winegrowers to the tune of €80 million from an emergency fund and €150 million for a vine pull scheme, to be negotiated with the EU.
Commenting on vine pull schemes, Fabre stressed that this measure is a response to the general problem of over-production, in combination with a decline in wine consumption and the need to restructure the sector.
“We can't say that organic vineyards won't be affected by the crisis, but organic wines are in a better position because we're aligned with consumer demand for products that respect the planet and people's well-being, and also with the needs of the trade, for whom organic is an increasingly important criteria,” she said, citing the state monopolies of Scandinavia and Canada.
In competition with Paris
Of the show's 1,500 exhibitors from 15 countries, around 200 were first-timers, including Languedoc cooperative winery Castelmaure.
Noting the presence of local and regional retailers and a lack of crowds, Castelmaure director Antoine Robert cited travel issues and visitors' need to choose between trade shows as potential explanations (Wine Paris takes place from 12 to 14 February 2024, only two weeks after Millésime Bio).
Long-time Millésime Bio exhibitor Claude Vialade (founder of Les Domaine Auriol) was categoric: “Wine Paris is easier for international visitors in terms of travel logistics, and Millésime Bio has suffered as a result. We used to see major clients from northern Europe and buyers from the Scandinavian monopolies here, but not any more.”
France accounted for 80% of exhibitors, and the country's Occitanie region represented a quarter of Millésime Bio stands. Other countries taking part included Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany and Austria.
Focus on Austria
More than 35 Austrian producers presented their wines at Millésime Bio, and biodynamics was one of the show's key themes. Of the show's exhibitors, 337 were Demeter- and/or Biodyvin-certified, and an Austrian Wines masterclass celebrating 100 years of biodynamics was full to capacity.
Chris Yorke, CEO of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board was upbeat: “We had over 35 Austrian wineries at the show, and as we have some of the highest organic and biodynamic rates of any country, it made sense for us to celebrate the centenary of the biodynamic movement at Millésime Bio.”