What is the OIV and Where is it Going? John Barker, New Head of the Organisation

New Zealand-born lawyer John Barker took over the reins of the OIV – International Organisation  of Vine and Wine – as successor to Pau Roca at the beginning of this year. Robert Joseph met him a few weeks after he started in the job.

Reading time: 8m

John Barker, new Director General of OIV
John Barker, new Director General of OIV

How the OIV works

Meininger’s: How has OIV changed in the last years?

Barker: The wine industry has changed enormously, so has the structure and the focus of the OIV. And the nature of the membership, it has e.g. changed to reflect the emergence of wine in southern Hemisphere countries, and its resurgence in many other parts of Europe or Central Asia. Many members are from Europe and there’s South America, Australasia, and Africa.

Meininger’s: How much of your activity is focused on table grapes and the non-wine part of grape business?

Barker: It's definitely part of our activity. An example: We have been working with China on the potential that they will become a member and they have over 700,000 hectares of vineyards, probably 90% of which is table grapes. We're having a very active and positive dialogue with China at the moment, but I couldn't tell you how long it will take. But that's not specific to China. every country's got a different process for negotiating and finally ratifying international treaties. When we moved the headquarters from Paris down to Dijon, we needed to change just one word in the treaty. Some countries have ratified that quickly, some need a lot longer, because the political processes are much more layered.

We have been working with China on the potential that they will become a member and they have over 700,000 hectares of vineyards, probably 90% of which is table grapes.

Meininger’s: How does a lawyer from a country that wasn't even making much wine 50 years ago, get to be at the head of an organization like this?

Barker: It’s a long path. I've been an expert for New Zealand in the OIV for more than 20 years. I've always worked in the field of wine as a lawyer, in the government and in the national industry organization. And I did a lot of work in private practice for businesses, governments and organizations, in New Zealand and all around the world. But it's an elected role

What is the OIV?

OIV is an intergovernmental organization that started in 1924 with the remit of providing scientific and technical references for the wine sector and producers of grapes and raisins, juice and other drinks made from grapes.

The work is divided into four commissions:

  • viticulture that covers everything to do with the grape;
  • oenology, with a sub-commission on methods of analysis;
  • law and consumer information;
  • health and safety.

OIV has 50 members. The headquarter is in Dijon, France.

Meininger’s: How big is the OIV budget?

Barker: About €3.7 million. So it's quite small.

Meininger’s: Shouldn't it be a bigger organization financially?

Barker: I campaigned on the basis of making the OIV bigger and stronger and I think that communication is an important part of that. Obviously, with the tight financial situation in many states, it's difficult to look at significant budget increases in terms of contributions from members. But, for the new strategic plan, we want to look at what we can do in the future to expand resources, maybe with partnerships.


The budget is quite small ... for the new strategic plan. We want to look at what we can do in the future to expand resources, maybe with partnerships.

Meininger’s: International organisations, are, arguably, in danger of spending a very long time discussing things, because it's quite hard to get consensus on subjects when you get representatives of countries with their own vested interests. How does that strike you?

Barker: Our role is to be a reference. We need to take a science-based approach. Sometimes it takes quite a long time as we have to find a consensus amongst some quite divergent opinions. But it's worthwhile, I think, because a lot of existential questions eventually come before us. For example, we’ve worked on dealcoholization, for a very long time. Over time, the markets change, the technology changes and viewpoints change. All in all, I think the OIV has played quite an important role by creating definitions for these products, and the approved techniques. And then they become European law. EU legal definitions quite closely reflect the work we did back in 2012.

Meininger’s: How does the OIV deal with new products like the bourbon-barrel-aged wine that is now selling 20m bottles in the US. Is it wine?

Barker: We've never considered that product in the OIV. What we work on is determined by the members.

Meininger’s: The organization was born in France, there is a weight towards Europe in its membership. Is the reason why the OIV has not looked at bourbon-barrel-aged wine for example is that is an American phenomena and the USA are not a member of the organisation?

Barker: There's a lot of things to consider in the world of wine at the moment. And, if it hasn't come to us, maybe it's not a priority for the membership.

Topics and to-do’s

Meininger’s: Your predecessor Pau Roca did a great deal to modernise the OIV. As his successor, what is on the top of your to do list?

Barker: 2024 is a big year - a centenary year, with normal meetings, expert group meetings, ministerial meetings, a Congress and a General Assembly here in October. And a move to our new headquarters which are being renovated down the road. One of my key tasks is to build a strategic plan for the next year and basically to understand the organization and to build the platform for the coming years.

We need to be very clear on our strategy and our scientific focus.

In terms of what the OIV does, I think we need to be very clear on our strategy and our scientific focus. And we need to concentrate on the things that we can do as an international organization that others can't. Climate change and sustainability, wine, society, health, consumers of tomorrow, innovation… because that's always kind of what we do. And the international trade environment, which is something that we haven't really done so much before.

Dealcoholized wine

Meininger’s: In a flat wine market, will topics like dealcoholized wine be more of a focus?

Barker: We're always looking at innovation within the sector. Technologically, dealcoholized wine is an important development. It is a whole suite of specific practices and a set of analytical methods that goes with it, and these are things we deal with. And then there's the question about what it is and how does it fit alongside wine.

Natural wine

Meininger’s: And how about natural wine styles like pet nat? One could say the OIV is sort of looking at wine with a 2000 focus rather than 2025.

Barker: Pet nat is generally within the definition of wine, so it doesn't raise any particular issues. All that you might ask the OIV to dois to create a definition for the product. But there's no strong demand for that. And I imagine, probably also not from the pet nat producers themselves.

Genetic modification

Meininger’s: And what about genetic modification (GM)?

Barker: The OV is a consensus based organization. We have discussed a lot about the question of GM, but with countries having quite divergent positions, it's difficult to find a consensus. As we're not a policy organization, we're not making policy decisions. But we have produced what we call a ‘collective expertise’ document.

Wine and health

Meininger’s: Does wine and health fit into this?

We have a commission that deals with wine and health; in particular it deals with two things. One is food safety. Is it going to kill you? The other is more about consumption, generally. But we don't do health policy.

The way the OIV works is via recommendations, but the members are not directly obliged to implement OIV recommendations. Some recommendations about winemaking practices go to the European Parliament and get incorporated into European law. But when you come to the national level or a particular appellation, then it's up to them.


Each April, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) presents its report on the "Situation in the global wine sector". In 2023, production volumes fell, but so did consumption. And there is still a surplus.

Reading time: 2m 15s

US – a missing member

Meininger’s: The link between OIV and EU is entirely logical given the volume of wine that is produced in Europe. But the elephant in the room is that North America isn't part of this club. Texas, as an ‘observer’, from my understanding, is more involved than the US.

Barker: Historically US was a member and they left in the early 2000s. From the OIV side, we would love to have Canada.

Meininger’s: And the US?

Barker:  Building a good relationship with the US is on my ‘to do’ list.

Building a good relationship with the US is on my ‘to do’ list.

Meininger’s: In production the US are going potentially their own way in regulation and research, possibly including GM. And in terms of labelling, again, they don't necessarily follow the same lines as Europe.

Barker: That would be true of a lot of OIV members, because it is a big church. We have 50 members, 19 of which are EU member states. So, we are representing a broad set of perspectives.  If you think about the challenges that we face as a sector, for me, it’s important that every country comes with its own kind of history, legal system and background.

We are all experiencing climate change, for example. So, this is a very strong common interest.

Selling price and cost of production

Meininger’s: Does the OIV look at subjects like the average selling price per litre and cost of production?

Barker: This is an area in which I would like to do more. Our constraint is that we have a very small secretariat of 18 people. But thinking about the future and the next strategic plan, it's certainly an area where I would seek support from members to do more. We're always going to operate at the global level, but we do have the advantage of having the capacity to reach all of our member countries for information to feed into our data.

We're always going to operate at the global level, but we do have the advantage of having the capacity to reach all of our member countries for information to feed into our data.

Meininger’s: Where does the OIV stand on PGOs? There’s a perception that the OIV strongly encourages their creation.

Barker: The OIV is a big church. In terms of anything that we've done on geographical indications, it's simply, to have a definition which is essentially the same as the World Trade Organization agreements.

Plans for the future

Meininger’s: A lot of people within the wine industry would say there isn't a wine voice. Or, if there is a wine voice, it's either one country or one region or one company or sector shouting more loudly than the others. Could the OIV be that voice?

Barker: Well, we're not a lobby group, but what we can do is be heard on issues within our framework. It’s important to see that our framework is not a limitation but a strength. We're objective, we're consensus-driven and that's our strength in the international field because we're not going to take a partisan position and say, ‘oh, well, you know, drink ten glasses of wine a day.’

We must always  be careful to maintain our objectivity on these matters. We have a relationship with the WHO because it's another international intergovernmental organization. It's largely about data sharing and information sharing at the moment. But we are very alert to the work that's going on there.

Meininger’s: So how long do people do this job?

Barker: It's a five-year term.

Meininger’s: Looking forward five years or ten years, what would you like to have achieved?

Barker: I want the OIV to have a very strong foundation because I think OIV is incredibly important and a great asset for the sector. At the end of this period, I want to ensure that the organisation is trusted, enjoys a strong reputation and provides added value for members and the sector.

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