Creating the Market for Organic Wine: Sulfites, Certification, and Green Values

61 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2017

See all articles by Geoffrey Gareth Jones

Geoffrey Gareth Jones

Harvard University - General Management Unit

Emily Grandjean

Harvard Business School

Date Written: December 5, 2017


This working paper examines the history of organic wine which provides a case study of failed category creation. The modern organic wine industry emerged during the 1970s in the United States and western Europe, but it struggled to gain traction compared to other organic food and drink products, including organic tea. Early experiments performed by less-savvy winemakers created a negative reputation for organic wine which proved a challenge to overcome. Early organic winemakers were often derided for their efforts, as conventional winemakers felt threatened by their claims to be more “natural” or healthful than conventional wines. Making matters more difficult, organic winemaking required a sophisticated understanding of complex environmental and chemical processes in the vineyard and winery, and organic wines typically did not command a premium in the marketplace despite their often higher costs of production. The development of organic wine in countries with different winemaking traditions resulted in little common agreement regarding the definition of “organic” wine. After heated debate regarding the use of sulfites, differing organic wine standards emerged. In the United States organic certification schemes excluded the use of sulfites, while in Europe some use was permitted. For winemakers, distributors and retailers, navigating the complex layers of regulations regarding organic wine was enormously time-intensive. Many winemakers chose to forego organic certification so as to avoid the perceived financial and time costs. Organic wine finally attained niche popularity in the 2010s, mainly in northwest Europe and in cosmopolitan global cities elsewhere, as fine-dining restaurants like Noma sought wines with clear terroir. Organic wine remained a tiny percentage of the world wine market. There remained huge differences between countries in consumption of organic wine. The market for organic wine was far larger in Sweden, a country with 9 million inhabitants, than in the United States, with 326 million.

Suggested Citation

Jones, Geoffrey Gareth and Grandjean, Emily, Creating the Market for Organic Wine: Sulfites, Certification, and Green Values (December 5, 2017). Harvard Business School General Management Unit Working Paper No. 18-048, Available at SSRN: or

Geoffrey Gareth Jones (Contact Author)

Harvard University - General Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Emily Grandjean

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics