Systembolaget, the Swedish alcohol monopoly, currently lists around 200 organic wines in its main catalogue. This is something entirely new —just a few years ago the number of organic wines could be counted on two hands.
In 2015 Systembolaget registered a 67.7% increase on sales of organic beverages, according to the company’s own data. Given the amount of land under organic cultivation in Spain, there is a real opportunity for the country to become the main supplier of organic wines in Sweden. Between 2002 and 2011, according to Eurostat figures, Spain’s area of organic vineyards rose from 16,000 hectares to almost 80,000 hectares.
Rosé wines are very popular and Girasol Organic Rosé leads the race in Sweden, with 380,000 litres sold in 2015. This popular bag in box is produced by Hammeken Cellars, an export-focused winery founded by a Dane and based in Ribera del Duero.
“The organic wine trend is still young and has lots of momentum. It is primarily driven by the Swedish alcohol monopoly and the consumers themselves”, explains Thomas Holstein, managing director of Enjoy Wine & Spirits, Girasol’s Swedish importer. “Organic wine has a market share of 20% in Sweden and it is increasing fast in the off-trade, yet the demand is “far from being met at the moment”.
How did Girasol become the leading Spanish organic rosé in Sweden? “The base is a high and constant quality over the year; consumers’ tastes are moving towards a lighter colour in rosés, a factor that must be taken seriously”, reckons Holstein. Enjoy Wine & Spirits are also known in Sweden for working with their “feet on the street” meeting consumers and organising events; this has played a key role in the success of Girasol, Holstein says.
Packaging also matters. “Nowadays it is just as important as how the wine tastes”, Holstein argues. Last summer, Enjoy Wine & Spirits changed the design in collaboration with Hammeken Cellars, the idea being to connect with the organic trend.
For Spanish wine producers, Holstein has a couple of tips: “Do your homework and learn everything about the Swedish market”. Producers should also think in the long term in terms of price and quality and side with an importer who is aggressive, alert and ready to invest in order to reach their sales targets.
In terms of reds, Gosa Monastrell is Spain’s leading organic brand in Sweden, with 1,225,685 litres sold in 2015. It is made by Juan Gil Family Estates in Jumilla, and according to president Miguel Gil, its success in the Nordic country is due in part to “its polished and mature tannins; we harvest Monastrell at optimum ripeness to get this softness”. Gil adds that another important factor is the excellent quality/price ratio —a three-litre bag in box in Sweden costs €20.
In this case, the packaging was also important. “We wanted it to stand out on the shelf, therefore we made the box purple, a colour that we identified as unusual on the monopoly stores”, says Gil. “In retrospect, we see that our strategy caught the eye of the consumer”.
Another top selling product is Husets Vita, with 608,160 litres sold in 2015. Since its launch in 2001, Husets Vita has been one of the most popular white wine brands in Sweden. Its producer Åkesson Vin is one of the largest bottlers in Sweden —they specialise on purchasing anonymous wine in bulk for their own brands. In 2015 Åkesson Vin thought they could increase sales by converting their Husets wines into organic. Since then, growth has been steady, says Johan Rosenkvist from Åkesson Vin.
So what is the secret of selling large quantities of organic wine in Sweden? “What we did differently from our competitors was that we converted an already popular and existing brand and made it organic; we did not create an entirely new organic wine brand”, says Rosenkvist. “For a white wine at this price level, the consumer wants something young, fresh and fruity, specially when purchasing bag in box wine”. Husets Vita is sold at around €7 for a one-litre pack, a fairly low price in Sweden. And it wasn’t complicated to find a Spanish supplier. “There are several producers in Castilla-La Mancha which can handle large volumes of organic wine”, says Rosenkvist.
To find similarities in the wines themselves we decided to submit the three wines to a technical analysis. It is interesting to note that none of the producers or importers mentioned sugar as an important component in the wine, yet our tests found some very interesting similarities.
Husets Vita has 12g of sugar per litre; that amount would be normal for a Kabinett from Mosel, but clearly not for a white wine from Castilla-La Mancha. Gosa Monastell has almost 7g per litre, about four times more than a traditional dry red wine.
“The trend in 2016 is moving towards sweeter reds”, says Marcus Sjöberg, sales person at Systembolaget in Saltsjöbaden, outside Stockholm. Sjöberg believes that sweeter styles such as appasimento, Californian Zinfandel and Italian Primitivo are pressuring wine importers to find sweeter wines even in regions that don't traditionally produce them.
In fairness, producers such as Juan Gil Bodegas Familiares are just responding to the trend and is in no way trying to lead the way towards more sugary plonk in the Swedish monopoly. To compete in volume, it is almost essential for a red wine to contain sugar —as much as 8 to 12g per litre. This is a reality in Seden and organic wines are not immune to this sad and worrying progression.
“To rival the Italians, we stop the fermentation in our Gosa, thus obtaining a red with residual sugar”, explains Miguel Gil when confronted with our analysis. And with the new specifications in VdT Murcia, reds can have up to 9g of sugar per litre and still be labeled as dry. The old limit in the EU was 4g per litre.
What has brought the increase? There is only one reason: with this higher limit, producers are able to satisfy the demand of sugar-coated red wines labelled as dry.