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Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of Expert's Ratings


Abstract and Figures

Eco-labels are part of a new wave of environmental policy that emphasizes information disclosure as a tool to induce environmentally friendly behavior by both firms and consumers. Little consensus exists as to whether eco-certified products are actually better than their conventional counterparts. This paper seeks to understand the link between eco-certification and product quality. We use data from three leading wine rating publications (Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine Spectator) to assess quality for 74,148 wines produced in California between 1998 and 2009. Our results indicate that eco-certification is associated with a statistically significant increase in wine quality rating. Being eco-certified increases the scaled score of the wine by 4.1 points on average.
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Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of Experts
Magali A. Delmas
, Olivier Gergaud
and Jinghui Lim
Ecolabels are part of a new wave of environmental policy that emphasizes information disclo-
sure as a tool to induce environmentally friendly behavior by both rms and consumers. Little
consensus exists as to whether ecocertied products are actually better than their conventional
counterparts. This study seeks to understand the link between ecocertication and product
quality. We use data from three leading wine-rating publications (the Wine Advocate,Wine
Enthusiast, and Wine Spectator) to assess quality for 74,148 wines produced in California
between 1998 and 2009. Our results indicate that ecocertication is associated with a statisti-
cally signicant increase in wine quality rating. Being ecocertied increases the scaled score of
the wine by 4.1 points on average. (JEL Classications: L15, L66, Q13, Q21, Q56)
Keywords: asymmetric information, credence goods, ecolabels, information disclosure policy,
product quality.
I. Introduction
Ecolabels are part of a new wave of environmental policy that emphasizes informa-
tion disclosure as a tool to induce environmentally conscious behavior by both rms
and consumers. The goal of ecolabels is to provide easily understood information
and thereby elicit increased demand for products perceived as environmentally
friendly. An important concern among consumers is that ecolabeled products
*This research was conductedwith the following undergraduate students at University of California, Los
Angeles: Hayley Moller, Geoff Wright,Danny Suits, Jon Gim, John Lee, and David Wolk. We thank them
for their essential input. We also thank an anonymous referee for valuable feedback.
University of California, Los Angeles Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Anderson
School of Management, La Kretz Hall, Suite 300, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1496; e-mail: delmas@ucla.
KEDGE Business School (Bordeaux campus), 680 Cours de la Libération, 33405 Talence Cedex,
France; e-mail:
University of California, Los Angeles Anderson School of Management, La Kretz Hall, Suite 300, Los
Angeles, CA 90095-1496; e-mail:
Journal of Wine Economics, Volume 11, Number 3, 2016, Pages 329354
© American Association of Wine Economists, 2016
might entail a trade-off between product quality and environmental impact. In other
words, in order to achieve low environmental impact, green products would have to
be of lower quality. In this study, we use the case of ecocertication in the wine in-
dustry to test the link between environmentally friendly production and product
The growing demand for environmentally sustainable products has created a
boom in the eld of green products. For instance, sales of organic foods in the
U.S. increased from $13.3 billion in 2005 to an estimated $34.8 billion in 2014.
The wine industry is no exception: the number of ecocertied Californian wine op-
erations in our data increased from 10 in 1998 to 57 in 2009. However, little consen-
sus exists as to whether ecocertied wines are actually better than their conventional
counterparts, making winemakers hesitant to seek certication. Although the liter-
ature shows that ecocertied (though not ecolabeled) wines command a price
premium over traditional wines,
no attempt has been made to test whether they
are actually of higher quality (Delmas and Grant, 2014). This study seeks to
answer the question, is ecocertication associated with quality? The wine market
is especially suited to an investigation of the connection between ecocertication
and quality; unlike many products of agriculture, wine is a highly differentiated
good for which quality ratings are published monthly. This allows us to control
for a broad range of characteristics such as vintage, varietal, and region in order
to isolate the effect of ecocertication on quality. We use data from three leading
wine-rating publications (the Wine Advocate [WA], Wine Spectator [WS], and
Wine Enthusiast [WE]) to assess quality of 74,148 wines produced in California
between 1998 and 2009. Scores are important as they can inuence the price of
wines. For instance, research (e.g., Cardebat, Figuet, and Paroissien, 2014;
Masset, Weisskopf, and Cossutta, 2015) has found that higher expert scores have
a signicant impact on wine prices, and, in a meta-analysis, Oczkowski and
Doucouliagos (2015) found a positive correlation of 0.30 between score and price.
Recent research indicates a moderately high level of consensus among these wine
publications (Stuen, Miller, and Stone, 2015). In addition, we use data on two
types of ecocertication, organic and biodynamic. We obtain ecocertication infor-
mation from California Certied Organic Farmers and Demeter Association.
Our results indicate that the adoption of wine ecocertication has a statistically
signicant and positive effect on wine ratings. These results are interesting because
they contradict the general sentiment that ecolabeled wines are of lower quality
the reason that two-thirds of California wineries that adopt ecocertication do not
put the ecolabel on their bottles (Delmas and Grant, 2014). This contradiction
overview.aspx (accessed November 10, 2015).
However, circumstances under which ecolabels can command price premiums are not fully understood.
Not only do consumers need to recognize ecolabels and trust the claim of the label, but they also need to be
willing to purchase green products (Delmas, Nairn-Birch, and Balzarova, 2013).
330 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
could indicate a failure of the current ecolabel to effectively convey the quality of
ecocertied wines.
The article proceeds as follows: In the next section, we discuss the literature relat-
ing to ecocertication and quality in wine and in other goods. After that, we discuss
our methodology and data set, and in the following section, we present our results.
Finally, we conclude the article with a discussion and proposals for future research.
II. Literature Review
Green products are credence goods; consumers cannot ascertain their environmental
qualities during purchase or use. Customers are not present during the production
process and therefore cannot observe environmental friendliness of production.
The objective of ecolabels is to reduce information asymmetry between the producer
of green products and consumers by providing credible information related to the
environmental attributes of the product and to signal that the product is superior
in this regard to a nonlabeled product (Crespi and Marette, 2005). The implicit
goal of ecolabels is to prompt informed purchasing choices by environmentally re-
sponsible consumers (Leire and Thidell, 2005, p. 1062).
Green products have been described as impure public goodsbecause they yield
both public and private benets (Cornes and Sandler, 1996; Ferraro, Uchida, and
Conrad, 2005; Kotchen, 2006). Altruistic consumers, who care about the environ-
ment, may receive a good feeling or warm glowfrom engaging in environmentally
friendly activities that contribute to this public good (Andreoni, 1990). Such warm-
glow altruism has been shown to be a signicant motivator of ecoconsumption
among environmentally minded consumers (Clarke, Kotchen, and Moore, 2003;
Kahn and Vaughn, 2009; Kotchen and Moore, 2007), with green consumption
acting as a substitute for donations to environmental organization (Kotchen,
2005). On the private good aspect of the green product, consumers care about the
quality of the product. Green products may offer quality advantages over their
brown counterparts such as increased health benets (Loureiro, McCluskey, and
Mittelhammer, 2001; Miles and Frewer, 2001; Yridoe, Bonti-Ankomah, and
Martin, 2005), but they may also suffer from production problems such as archaic
production and farming techniques that result in poorer quality (Galarraga
Gallastegui, 2002; Peattie and Crane, 2005).
The empirical literature on the effectiveness of ecolabels has identied changes in
consumer awareness after exposure to the label (Leire and Thidell, 2005; Loureiro
and Lotade, 2005) and consumer inclination to change their purchasing behavior
in favor of ecolabeled products (Blamey et al., 2000; Loureiro, 2003). The literature
has examined many different products, such as paper products (Brouhle and
Khanna, 2012), dolphin-safe tuna (Teisl, Roe, and Hicks, 2002), wine (Corsi and
Strøm, 2013), genetically modied food (Roe and Teisl, 2007), apparel (Nimon
and Beghin, 1999), and green electricity (Teisl, Roe, and Levy, 1999), and has
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 331
used either observed consumer behavior (e.g., Brouhle and Khanna, 2012) or choice
experiments (e.g., Teisl, Roe, and Levy, 1999). This literature focuses mostly on con-
sumer responses to ecolabels with little mention of the potential benets associated
with the certication process that are independent from the ecolabel. Such benets,
however, have been highlighted by another strand of literature, rooted in manage-
ment and policy, which describes potential efciencies gained from ecocertication
or the codied adoption of sustainable practices (Delmas, 2001; Prakash and
Potoski, 2006). This article brings these two strands of literature together through
a better understanding of the effectiveness of ecolabeling strategies and their effect
on quality.
A. Ecocertication in the Wine Industry
In the U.S. wine industry, there are several competing ecolabels related to organic
certication and biodynamic certication. Organic certication follows the U.S.
National Organic Standards, which denes a farming method prohibiting the use
of additives or alterations to the natural seed, plant, or animal, including, but not
limited to, pesticides, chemicals, or genetic modication.
Additionally, labeling
standards were created based on the percentage of organic ingredients in the
product: products labeled organicmust consist of at least 95% organically pro-
duced ingredients and may display the U.S. Department of Agricultures (USDA)
organic seal; products labeled made with organic ingredientsmust contain at
least 70% organic ingredients. For wine specically, there are two possible organic
labels: organicwine and wine made from organic grapes.Both types use
organic grapes and are overseen by a USDA-accredited certier. However, only nat-
urally occurring sultes (less than 10 parts per million) are allowed in organic wine;
sultes can be added, up to 100 parts per million, to wine made from organic grapes.
As sultes help preserve wine, stabilize the avor, and remove unusual odors, wines
made without adding sultes may be of lower quality (Waterhouse, 2016).
Biodynamic agriculture is a method made popular by Austrian scientist and phi-
losopher Rudolf Steiner in the early 1920s. Often compared to organic agriculture,
biodynamic farming is different in a few ways. Biodynamic farming prohibits syn-
thetic pesticides and fertilizers in the same manner as certied organic farming.
However, although organic farming methods focus on eliminating pesticides,
growth hormones, and other additives for the benet of human health, biodynamic
farming emphasizes creating a self-sufcient and healthy ecosystem. In 1928, the
Demeter Association was founded in Europe to support and promote biodynamic
The U.S. National Organic Standards law was passed in 2001. Regulations require organic products and
operations to be certied by an entity accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assure
consumers that products marketed as organic meet consistent, uniform minimum standards.
USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, Labeling Organic Wine (accessed February 19, 2016, at https://
332 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
agriculture. The U.S. Demeter Association certied its rst biodynamic farm in
In addition to the vineyard agricultural requirements, Demeter provides a
separate set of wine-making standards for biodynamic wine. For the purposes of
this article, we consider biodynamic wine, organic wine, and wine made from
organic grapes to be ecocertied wine.
III. Hypotheses
Although many consumers presume that organic foods taste better and provide
greater health benets than their conventionally grown counterparts (Huang,
1991; Huang and Lin, 2007; Jolly and Norris, 1991), this is not the case with ecocert-
ied wine. Although the health benets of wine consumption are touted in recent
dietary and medical studies, the research has not made the link of added personal
benets due to environmental practices. For example, a recent study by Garaguso
and Nardini (2015) indicate that organic red wines produced without addition of
sulfur dioxide/sultes are comparable to conventional red wines with regard to the
total polyphenol and avonoid content, the phenolic prole, and the antioxidant
Results from a survey showed that perceptions of the quality of organic and bio-
dynamic wines varied greatly according to the familiarity of the respondents with
those wines. Among the respondents who had tasted organic wine, 55% had a pos-
itive to very positive opinion of the quality of the wine. Among the respondents who
had not tasted organic wine, only 31% had a positive opinion of the quality of
organic wine (Delmas and Lessem, 2015). In a discrete choice experiment, Loose
and Remaud (2013) found that consumers were willing to pay an average
premium of 1.24 euros for organic wines. They found that consumers valued the
organic claim more than the other social responsibility and environmental claims;
however, they did not examine whether it was due to the perception of organic
wine quality. In another discrete choice experiment, Delmas and Lessem (2015)
found that consumers preferred ecolabeled wines over identical conventional coun-
terparts when the price was lower, which might mean that consumers interpreted the
labeling as a sign of lower quality.
Because of the lack of clarity on the value added by wine ecolabels, some wineries
currently follow organic and biodynamic practices without being certied. Others
become certied but do not provide the information on their bottle label (Delmas
and Grant, 2014; Rauber, 2006). One reason is that growers want to have the exi-
bility to change their inputs if it becomes necessary to save a crop during bad weather
To achieve Demeter certication, a vineyard must adhere to requirements concerning agronomic guide-
lines, greenhouse management, structural components, livestock guidelines, and postharvest handling and
processing procedures (see the Demeter USA website,
As we explain later, our data set does not contain organic wines.
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 333
conditions or pests (Veldstra, Alexander, and Marshall, 2014). The other reason is
that most of these wineries think that there is a negative image associated with
organic wine.
For example, a 2006 article by Paul Gleason in the Environmental Magazine in-
cludes an interview with winemaker Tony Coturri of Coturri Winery. Although
his vineyards are certied organic, meaning no chemicals are used in the wine-
making process, he does not include the word organic on his winerys labels. He
states, In all honesty, wine consumers have not embraced quality and organic in
the same line yet. They still have the attitude that organic wine is a lower quality
than what you can get in a conventional wine. Its a stigma.
If ecocertication has an unclear value for consumers, why would wineries pursue
it? Both organic and biodynamic agriculture are more labor intensive than conven-
tional farming methods because they require more attention to details. Cost studies
suggest that switching from a conventional to an organic-certied winery can add
10% to 15% in cost for the rst 3 to 4 years (Weber, Klonsky, and De Moura,
2005). Can wineries still obtain a price premium if customers do not value ecocerti-
cation? What would be the mechanism that could lead to a price premium related to
certication independently from the ecolabel? We hypothesize that ecocertication is
associated with an increase in the quality of the wine.
This is consistent with winemakersclaims that the adoption of green practices is a
way to increase the quality of their wines. For example, winemaker John Williams,
owner of Frogs Leap Winery in Napa Valley, was interviewed in a recent article
by Jeff Cox in Rodales Organic Life. Williams says he pursues certication to
produce better wines. He elaborates, Organic growing is the only path of grape
growing that leads to optimum quality and expression of the land. Thats for the
same reasons that a healthy diet and lifestyle make for healthy people. When the
soil is healthy, the vines are healthy.
One possible reason is that conventional practices reduce soil microbes. Recent re-
search found the same species of microbes in the soil and the grapevine, suggesting
that the soil serves as a reservoir for the microbes in the grapevine, and that these
microbes might play a role in the terroir of the wine (Zarraonaindia et al., 2015).
A second possible reason, found with biodynamic practices, is that biodynamic pre-
parations may affect the wine grape canopy and chemistry (Reeve et al., 2005). A
third possible reason is that organic and biodynamic practices are associated with
a reduction in yield through pruning and thinning, which could explain a rise in
Gleason, P., Organic grapes, organic wine: The harvest is bountiful, but the labeling controversy is still
fermenting, Environmental Magazine, October 31, 2006 (accessed November 12, 2015, at http://www.ema
Cox, J., Organic tastings: A great wine is one the gives great pleasure, Rodales Organic Life, December
22, 2010 (accessed November 2015 at
334 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
quality. This is because an individual vine can better ripen a smaller volume of fruit
(Jackson and Lombard, 1993).
A survey conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles conrmed this
anecdotal evidence (Delmas and Gergaud, 2014). In this survey, owners and manag-
ers of California wineries were asked to provide their top motivation for adopting
sustainable certication practices. The list included the following motivations:
provide a clean environment for future generations, improved quality of quality of
grapes/wines, long-term viability of business, maintain soil quality, growing con-
sumer demand, increased demand from restaurants and retailers, improved commu-
nity relations, improved relations with regulatory agencies, wide local adoption,
diversication of product offerings, increased export potential, and association
with top industry performers. As expected, improved quality of grapes/wines
was chosen as the top motivation for 25% of the 346 respondents. This rationale
was more frequent among those who had actually adopted certication, with 28%
for certied wineries against 24% for wineries that produce conventional wine.
Motivations related to consumer demand for sustainable practices or stakeholder re-
lationswere far behind. The only motivation that was chosen rst by a higher number
of respondents was provide a clean environment for future generations,which
represents the ultimate goal of certication. This motivation represents the public
good objective of the certication rather than the business objective of certication.
In conclusion, because of the potential increase in wine quality associated with
certication, we hypothesize the following:
H1: Ecocertied wines are of higher quality than conventional wines.
IV. Method
To determine the quality effect of ecocertied wines, we study 74,148 wines from
California that have vintages ranging from 1998 to 2009, from 3,842 wineries.
California accounts for an estimated nine-tenths of U.S. wine production, making
more than 276 million cases annually.
To avoid relying too heavily on any one experts taste, we gather data from three
inuential publications by wine experts: WA, WE, and WS. WA is a bimonthly wine
publication featuring the advice of wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. WE is a lifestyle
publication that was founded in 1988 by Adam and Sybil Strum and covers wine,
food, spirits, travel, and entertaining. WS is a lifestyle magazine that focuses on
wine and wine culture. During our period of study, the main tasters for California
wines for WA, WE, and WS were Robert Parker, Steve Heimoff, and James
Laube, respectively. Information on each publication rating system is provided in
Table 1. All the publications claim blind review.
9 (accessed on July 17, 2016).
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 335
Each wine review provides information regarding the wines winery, vintage, ap-
pellation, and varietal, and most also provide information on the price of the wine
and the number of cases produced. Each review also contains a score, a short de-
scription of the wine, and the review date.
A. Dependent Variables
Our dependent variable is wine quality, as measured by the score the reviewer as-
signed the wine. All three publications perform blind tastings, and ratings are
based on a 100-point scale. Table 1 provides more details regarding the ranges
and their meanings. Generally, wines scoring 90 or above are considered some of
the best, described as extraordinary,”“outstanding,”“superb,”“excellent,or
classic.Wines between 80 and 89 tend to range between above average and very
good. WE does not publish reviews of wines that score below 80. For the other
two publications, wines with scores of 70 to 79 are generally considered average,
those with scores between 60 and 69 are considered below average, and those with
scores between 50 and 59 are considered poor. The mean rating for each publication
is between 86 and 90 points, and the standard deviation is between 3 and 4 points.
Figure 1 shows the distribution of the scores. Interestingly, there seems to be a
rounding upeffect in which scores of 89 (which are in the very good category) are
rounded up to 90 (the excellent category). There are fewer wines scored at 89 points
(5,153 wines) than there are at 88 (7,584 wines) and at 90 (6,989 wines). This seems
to be largely a result of WEs scoring and, to a lesser extent, WSs scoring.
Although there are similarities in the scores, the differences are stark. For instance,
the publications have different mean, median, minimum, and maximum scores as
shown in Table 2. Thus, we scale the scores using a method adapted from
Cardebat and Paroissien (2015). We convert the raw scores to a percentile value
for each of the publications.
The summary statistics for these scaled scores are
show in Table 2. As the table shows, the mean scaled score for all three publications
is 50.0 and the standard deviation is approximately 28.7. The correlation between the
raw score and scaled score is 0.912. Table 3 shows some summary statistics: the
average scaled score for conventional wines is 50.0, and the average score for ecocert-
ied wines is 47.8.
We also examine the impact of ecocertication on the number of words in the wine
notes that reviewers write. For this, we drop all wines with no notes, leaving us with
In order to avoid possible bias, we ran regressions omitting observations that scored 89 or 90. The results
are robust; results are available from the authors.
We did this by ranking the scores for each publication and dividing the rank by the total number of
reviews and multiplying by 100. Due to the nature of the data, there were many ties. To break ties in
rank, we assigned the midpoint of the ranks. Assigning the maximum of the rank would be similar to
what Cardebat and Paroissien (2015) did but would result in a large number of overstated scores. Using
either method did not affect the direction, signicance, and magnitude of the results.
336 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
61,115 observations, as shown in Table 3. The average number of words in a wine
note is 41.0. As an additional check on whether ecocertication provides better
quality, we also count the number of words that describe the wines positively and
negatively in each wine note.
On average, there are 6.8 positive words and 1.4 neg-
ative words in each wine note.
Table 1
Rating Systems and Sample Characteristics
The Wine Advocate Wine Enthusiast Wine Spectator
96100: Extraordinary; a classic
wine of its variety.
9095: Outstanding; exceptional
complexity and character.
8089: Barely above average to
very good; wine with various
degrees of avor.
7079: Average; little distinction
beyond being soundly made.
6069: Below average; drinkable
but containing noticeable dec-
5059: Poor; unacceptable, not
Reviewers for California:
Robert Parker (until late
2011) and Antonio Galloni
(starting late 2011)
Tasting: blind
Sample: 14,243
Vintages: 19982009
Average rating: 90.005
Standard deviation: 3.107
Minimum rating: 64
Median rating: 90
Maximum rating: 100
Ecocertied wines: 0.534%
95100: Superb. One of
the greats.
9094: Excellent. Extremely
well made and highly
8589: Very good. May
offer outstanding value
if the price is right.
8084: Good. Solid wine,
suitable for everyday
Only wines scoring 80
points or higher are pub-
Reviewer for California:
Steve Heimoff
Tasting: blind
Sample: 37,361
Vintages: 19982009
Average rating: 87.427
Standard deviation: 3.461
Minimum rating: 80
Median rating: 87
Maximum rating: 100
Ecocertied wines: 1.285%
95100: Classic; a great wine.
9094: Outstanding; superior
character and style.
8089: Good to very good;
wine with special qualities.
7079: Average; drinkable wine
that may have minor aws.
6069: Below average; drinkable
but not recommended.
5059: Poor; undrinkable, not
Reviewers for California: James
Laube (primary taster),
MaryAnn Worobiec, and
Tim Fish
Tasting: blind
Sample: 22,544
Vintages: 19982009
Average rating: 86.388
Standard deviation: 4.138
Minimum rating: 55
Median rating: 87
Maximum rating: 99
Ecocertied wines: 1.016%
There are exceptions to this policy with respect to (1) all barrel tastings,(2) all specic appellation tastings where at least 25 of the best
estates will not submit samples for group tastings, and (3) for all wines under $25.
Source: (
We obtained lists of positive and negative words used in reviews from
sentiment-analysis.html and
davis-aroma-wheel/ (accessed November 2015).
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 337
B. Independent Variable
The ecocertied variable, which indicates whether the wine is ecocertied, is of primary
interest to our research. There are two main ways we code an observation as ecocert-
ied. First, the winery has certied organic vines. We match our wine
Fig. 1 - Colour online, B/W in print
list to data of
organically certied vineyards and year of certication as provided by the certier
California Certied Organic Farmers. Second, the winery follows biodynamic prac-
tices certied by and listed with Demeter Certication Services. Finally, a winery
purchases grapes from one of the two preceding sources. Thus, we consider both bio-
dynamic wines and wines made from organic grapes as ecocertied.
We merge the ecocertication data with the wine review data based on the name of
the wine operation. We code ecocertication as a dummy variable that equals 1 if the
operation is ecocertied and 0 otherwise. On average, 1.1% of the wines in the sample
are ecocertied. This small percentage is consistent with California organic wine
grape production, which accounts for less than 2% of Californias 550,000 total
wine grapegrowing acres.
As Table 1 shows, WE has the highest percentage of
ecocertied wines.
Figure 1
Histogram of Scores
Note: WA, Wine Advocate; WE, Wine Enthusiast; WS, Wine Spectator.
There are no organic wines in our data set.
See and http:// (accessed November 13, 2015).
338 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
Table 2
Summary Statistics of Scaled Scores
Publication Mean Standard deviation N Minimum Lower quartile Median Upper quartile Maximum
WA 50.004 28.725 14,243 0.007 27.582 52.710 74.844 99.891
WE 50.001 28.753 37,361 0.414 27.448 49.347 74.762 99.995
WS 50.002 28.748 22,544 0.013 25.011 52.941 76.271 99.996
Total 50.002 28.746 74,148 0.007 27.448 49.347 74.762 99.996
Note: WA, Wine Advocate; WE, Wine Enthusiast; WS, Wine Spectator.
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 339
Table 3
Summary Statistics
All wines
Variable Mean Standard deviation Minimum Maximum Mean Standard deviation Mean Standard deviation
Scaled score 50.002 28.746 0 100 50.025 28.773 47.817 26.032
Number of words 40.952 16.910 3 291 40.977 16.920 38.833 15.902
Number of positive words 6.796 3.074 0 31 6.799 3.075 6.572 2.966
Number of negative words 1.445 1.334 0 11 1.448 1.335 1.242 1.236
Ecocertied 0.011 0.102 0 1
Age 2.621 0.977 0 12 2.622 0.976 2.492 1.043
Cases 5274.747 50,355.710 0 8,601,500 5,246.436 50,578.930 7,920.601 20,581.700
Cases (log) 4.521 3.621 0 16.0 4.509 3.618 5.668 3.701
Cases missing 0.353 0.478 0 1 0.354 0.478 0.259 0.438
Excluding cases missing:
Cases 8,157.83 62,435.440 11 8,601,500 8,126.819 62,764.320 10,683.29 23,281.92
Cases (log) 6.993 1.731 2.4 16.0 6.985 1.729 7.645 1.829
Certication experience 0.040 0.600 0 23 0 0 3.767 4.470
N =74,148 (61,115 for words variables).
N = 73,363 (60,407 for words variables).
N =785 (708 for words variables).
340 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
Endogeneity is a possible problem. The most likely issue is that wineries do not get
ecocertied at random. Better wineries that produce higher scoring wines might be
more likely to become ecocertied, and our coefcient might reect the differences in
wineries and produce biased estimates. In order to mitigate this issue, our main
model uses winery xed effects and therefore compares differences within the
winery over time, not across wineries.
C. Controls
In order to assess the impact of size on quality, we control for the quantity produced.
Unfortunately, information on how many cases were produced was missing for
35.3% of our observations. To preserve the number of observations, we created a
dummy variable for observations that had missing information on number of
cases and replaced missing case values with 0. This is equivalent to having a separate
intercept for the observations that have missing values for number of cases. We
explore a different way of dealing with missing values later in the article. Whether
the number of cases is reported depends on the publication: WA has the highest pro-
portion of missing cases (0.88), followed by WE (0.35) and then WS (0.02).
For the full sample (including those with missing case information), the mean
number of cases is 5,275, as shown in Table 3. The maximum is more than 8.6
million, and the standard deviation is approximately 50,000, indicating a skewed dis-
tribution. To account for that, we use the natural log of cases; if the number of cases
is missing we enter that value as 0. The mean of that value is 4.5, with a standard
deviation of 3.6. Excluding those with missing values for cases, the mean of the
log value is approximately 7.0, and the standard deviation is 1.7.
Finally, to control for the vineyards experience with ecocertication practices, we
include a variable representing the length of certication experience, calculated as the
vintage minus the rst year the operation was certied. The mean of this is 0.040, a
very low number as very few operations are certied.
We include information about varietals.
Pinot Noir is the most common varietal,
accounting for 16.82% of our sample. This is followed by Cabernet Sauvignon
(16.50%) and Chardonnay (15.18%). The average scaled scores across varietals are
quite different, with a high of 69.69 for sparkling wine and a low of 33.46 for
Pinot Gris/Grigio.
We also control for the impact of soil specicities and weather using region-
vintage dummy variables. To get regions, we use the American Viticultural Areas
These varietals are Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, dessert
wine, Gewürztraminer, Grenache, Marsanne, Merlot, Mourvedre, other red, other white, Petite Sirah,
Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Noir, red blend, Riesling, rosé, Roussanne, Sangiovese,
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, sparkling wine, Syrah, Viognier, white blend, and Zinfandel.
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 341
from which the wine originates.
Wine from Napa Valley is the most common (ac-
counting for 28.62% of our sample) and also the highest rated (with a mean scaled
score of 58.12). Wine from the central coast of California is the second most
common (accounting for 27.81% of the sample) and is the third highest rated
(with a mean scaled score of 47.10). Wine from Sonoma is the second-highest
rated (with a mean scaled score of 53.63) and the third most common (accounting
for 26.61% of our sample).
Our region-vintage dummy variables control for quality differences that would arise
from varying weather conditions. As shown by Ashenfelter (2008), Ashenfelter and
Storchmann (2010), and Ashenfelter, Ashmore, and Lalande (1995), weather is an im-
portant determinant of wine quality. This is true even for wines from grapes grown in
California, which is reputed to have stable weather over time (Ramirez, 2008), especial-
ly when compared with other regions like Bordeaux in which weather conditions can
vary substantially from year to year (Ashenfelter, 2008; Lecocq and Visser, 2006).
Region-vintage dummy variables better control for weather than region and vintage
as separate sets of variables because they are more exible as they allow a regions
weather to vary across time. These region-vintage dummy variables also control for
general trends in the wine industry over time, such as improvements in knowledge
or technology.
We also control for the age of the wine at the time it is reviewed, calculated as the
vintage subtracted from the year the wine was reviewed. As shown in Table 3, the
mean age is 2.6 years. The correlation matrix of the main variables is shown in
Table 4.
V. Model and Estimation Strategy
We estimate our regression equation using the xed-effects model:
Qualityiwrt ¼β×Ecocertifiedwt þαwþγXiwrt þδrt þεiwrt,
where Quality
is the score of wine ifrom winery win region rof vintage t. As an
additional measure of quality, we study the wine notes and measure the number of
words, including the number of positive and number of negative words, the reviewer
used in the wine note. We also examine the probability that the reviewer used a
specic word in the wine note using a linear probability model.
These regions are Central Coast, Central Valley, Mendocino/Lake Counties, Napa Valley, North Coast,
Other California, Sierra Foothills, Sonoma Valley, and South Coast. We group American Viticultural
Areas into regions based on the following map from the Wine Institute of California: http://www.discov (accessed February
22, 2016).
We use the linear probability model because panel logit and probit models are prohibitively time
342 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
Table 4
Correlation Matrix
Number of
Number of positive
Number of negative
words Ecocertied Age
Scaled score 1.000
Number of words 0.503 1.000
Number of positive
0.509 0.601 1.000
Number of negative
0.229 0.427 0.167 1.000
Ecocertied 0.014 0.014 0.008 0.165 1.000
Age 0.017 0.027 0.024 0.027 0.016 1.000
Cases (log) 0.235 0.230 0.108 0.136 0.042 0.093 1.000
Cases missing 0.169 0.202 0.091 0.103 0.030 0.154 0.933 1.000
Certication experience 0.023 0.022 0.021 0.020 0.651 0.011 0.036 0.026
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 343
a dummy variable for whether winery wwas ecocertied during vintage year t.
Winery xed effects are captured by α
, which accounts for time-invariant winery
characteristics such as winery management structure. X
captures other controls
of the wine: the age of the wine, the number of cases produced, the varietal, publica-
tion dummy variables, and certication experience. The term δ
consists of region-
vintage dummy variables to control for regional time-varying differences such as soil
quality and weather.
VI. Results
Table 5 shows the regression results. As shown in regression (1), ecocertication has a
statistically signicant impact on score. Being ecocertied increases the scaled score
of the wine by 4.1 points on average. The number of cases produced has a small, neg-
ative, and statistically signicant impact on score: a 1% increase in the number of
cases will decrease the scaled score by 0.019 point.
Interestingly, certication experience (which is equal to the vintage minus the rst
year the winery was certied) has a negative and statistically signicant impact on
scaled score. This is perhaps because the early adopters of ecocertication were win-
eries of poorer quality. An increase in the number of years of certication experience
by one decreases the scaled score by 0.74 point. On average, WA awards 12.1 fewer
points than WS (the omitted group), and WE awards 7.4 points more than WS. This
likely indicates that WA is more selective. As a robustness test, we ran a similar re-
gression using the raw scores (instead of scaled scores) and found that ecocertica-
tion increased the score (signicant at 10%). These results are in column (3) of
Table A1 (see Appendix).
It is worth asking whether the preference for ecocertied wine is a quirk of a par-
ticular wine publication, or if it is a more uniform recognition of the higher quality of
ecocertied wines. Regressions (2), (3), and (4) of Table 5 present results of the regres-
sions when we split the sample by wine-rating publication. As the coefcients show,
organic certication increases the scaled score by between 3.0 and 5.1, although the
WS coefcient is not statistically signicant. This is possibly due to the small number
of ecocertied wines. Overall, the positive coefcients suggest agreement among
experts that ecocertied wines are of better quality (the difference would range
between a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 5 points).
Next, in order to understand whether ecocertication practices have a different
impact depending on the type of wine, we divided the observations based on type
of wine: red, white, and other (dessert, sparkling, and rosé). Regressions (5), (6),
and (7) of Table 5 show the results. The ecocertication coefcient is positive and
statistically signicant only for the red wines.
In addition, we conducted several robustness tests. First, to mitigate possible
endogeneity not controlled for by our xed-effects model, we used an instrumental
344 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
Table 5
Fixed Effects Regressions of Scaled Score on Ecocertication
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
Sample All WA WE WS Red White Other
Ecocertication 4.067** 5.093* 4.017* 2.998 5.604** 1.266 3.805
(1.909) (3.002) (2.212) (3.654) (2.552) (2.126) (5.381)
Age 0.090 1.526*** 2.480*** 3.708*** 0.356 0.081 3.420***
(0.211) (0.434) (0.258) (0.288) (0.225) (0.392) (0.789)
Cases (log) 1.927*** 2.228*** 2.283*** 2.207*** 2.163*** 1.793*** 3.058***
(0.126) (0.352) (0.161) (0.181) (0.143) (0.195) (0.901)
Certication experience 0.736** 0.342 0.395 0.908 1.101** 0.016 8.811***
(0.352) (0.639) (0.422) (0.905) (0.470) (0.419) (2.414)
WA 12.057*** 11.854*** 13.742*** 7.083
(0.729) (0.842) (1.085) (7.175)
WE 7.434*** 8.404*** 5.429*** 1.884
(0.544) (0.685) (0.672) (6.583)
Observations 74,148 14,243 37,361 22,544 53,694 19,581 873
Number of wineries 3,842 1,132 3,270 2,182 3,606 1,986 315
Adjusted R-squared 0.119 0.130 0.071 0.095 0.125 0.119 0.200
Notes: ***, P< 0.01; **, P< 0.05; *, P< 0.1. Standard errors, robust and clustered by winery, shown in parentheses; varietal, region-vintage, and cases missing dummy variables included but not shown. WA, Wine
Advocate; WE, Wine Enthusiast; WS, Wine Spectator.
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 345
variable approach, using the proportion ecocertied 3 years ago and previous-year
certication as in instrument for ecocertication. This method yielded similar
results as our main model. Results are available from the authors upon request.
Second, we followed an alternative approach to deal with missing values for cases
by using only observations that have information on number of cases. Doing so
reduces our observations by more than a third; the coefcient of ecocertication is
still positive and of approximately the same magnitude but is only signicant at
10%. These results are shown in column (1) of Table A1 in the Appendix. We also
ran the regression without controlling for the number of cases. The results are
robust. Third, cost can be an important factor. Although we do not have information
on price, we use cost as a proxy for it. More precisely, we calculated the average price
of all wines of a specic vintage produced by a winery. In the regression, we included
dummy variables to indicate to which quartile of prices wines of the previous years
vintage belonged. The results did not change; these are shown in column (2) of
Table A1.
Next, we examine the impact that ecocertication has on the number of words
used in wine notes. As shown in regression (1) of Table 6, wine notes of ecocertied
wines are not signicantly longer than those of conventional wines. However, as
shown in regressions (2) and (3), ecocertication increases the average number of
positive words by 0.4 but has no statistically signicant impact on the number of neg-
ative words. Additionally, to account for the nonnegative nature of word and char-
acter count, we ran Poisson and negative binomial regressions and found similar
results. Results are available from the authors upon request.
Finally, we examine the qualitative differences between ecocertied and conven-
tional wines by examining the words used in the wine notes. In order to do that,
we reduce each word in the wine notes to its root word using a stemming algorithm
provided by Snowball.
Next, for each unique root word, we ran a linear probability
model for whether the word was used in the wine notes. Our results are presented in
Table 7.
In Table 7, we show the root words on which ecocertication has a statistically sig-
nicant and positive impact, dividing them into several categories. For instance,
looking at the rst few lines in the rst column, barrel,”“chilli,and excelare
all root words that describe the quality of wine; ecocertication had a positive and
statistically signicant impact on the probability that those words were used in the
wine notes. Looking at the second line, two words (chillyand chilliness)
reduce to the root word chilli.We divide the words into four categories: the
quality, taste, color, and texture of the wine.
Interestingly, under taste, we nd acid,”“butter,peat,”“ferment,”“richer,
herb,and rocky.These qualities might resonate with winemakers who say that
This project can be found at (accessed November 13, 2015).
346 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
wines without chemicals can better express the avors of the terroir. For example, in
a 2008 article in Organic Wine Journal, Ron Laughton from Jasper Hill Vineyards,
Flavors are created in the vine. The building blocks are the minerals in the soil. If you keep
applying synthetic chemicals, you are upsetting the minerals in the soil. So if you wish to
express true terroir, you should be trying to keep the soil healthy. Let the minerals that are
already there express themselves in the avor in the vine.
Herbicides upset the balance of the vineyard simply because dead grasses are an essential
part of the vineyard oor. Those dying grasses act as food for another species, and they act as
food for another species. You go right down the food chain to the organisms that create the
minerals for your plant to suck up and create the building blocks for the avors. Its [sic] not
rocket science.
Although Table 7 shows which words are used more frequently in ecocertied wines
than conventional wines, it does not show how frequently the words are used. In
Figure 2, we show a graphical representation of the frequencies of the word
shown in Table 7, by using word clouds, in which the size of the word represents
the relative frequency of the word. Looking at the words from reviews of all ecocert-
ied wines, cherryand acidare the most common word stems. As shown in the
Table 6
Fixed Effects Regressions of Score on the Number of Words in Wine Notes
(1) (2) (3)
Dependent variable Number of words Number of positive words Number of negative words
Ecocertication 0.747 0.415** 0.012
(1.021) (0.186) (0.079)
Age 0.309*** 0.059*** 0.026***
(0.112) (0.020) (0.008)
Cases (log) 0.881*** 0.106*** 0.050***
(0.076) (0.014) (0.005)
Certication experience 0.401** 0.105* 0.029
(0.172) (0.055) (0.025)
Wine Advocate 22.251*** 2.616*** 0.292***
(0.526) (0.078) (0.031)
Wine Enthusiast 10.887*** 2.543*** 0.041**
(0.283) (0.051) (0.021)
Observations 61,115 61,115 61,115
Number of wineries 3,706 3,706 3,706
Adjusted R-squared 0.187 0.101 0.045
Notes: ***, P< 0.01; **, P< 0.05; *, P< 0.1. Standard errors, robust and clustered by winery, shown in parentheses; varietal, region-vintage,
and cases missing dummy variables included but not shown.
Morganstern, A., Biodynamics in the vineyard, Organic Wine Journal, March 17, 2008 (accessed
November 13, 2015 at
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 347
Table 7
Summary of Words with Signicant, Positive Coefcients for Ecocertication on Word Use
Barrel: barrel, barrels
Chilli: chilly, chilliness
Excel: excellent, excellence, excels, excel-
lently, excelled, excelling, excel
Fantast: fantastic, fantastically
Feminin: feminine, femininity
Finest: nest
Fulli: fully
Good: good, goodness, goode, goods,
Invit: inviting, invitingly, invites, invite,
Juic: juice, juices, jucing, juiced, juicy,
Likeabl: likeable, likeability
lush: lushly, lush, lushness
Offbeat: offbeat
Orient: oriental, oriented, orientation,
Particular: particularly, particular
Penetr: penetrating, penetrate, penetration,
penetrates, penetratingly
Qualiti: quality, qualities
Raci: racy, raciness
Respect: respect, respected, respectively, re-
spects, respectable, respective, respectfully,
Select: selection, select, selections, selected,
Smack: smacked, smacking, smacks,
smackingly, smack
Strong: strong, strongly, strongs
Summer: summer, summers
Sure: sure, surely
Upscal: upscale
Wonder: wonderful, wonderfully, wonder,
wonders, wondering, wondered
Acid: acidity, acids, acidic, acid, acidically,
acidly, acidicly
Butter: buttered, butter, butterly
Cherri: cherry, cherries, cherried, cheriness
Coffe: coffee
Ferment: fermented, fermentation, fermenting,
fermenter, fermentations, ferment, fermenters,
ferments, fermention
Herb: herb, herbs, herbed, herbes, herbe
Jammi: jammy, jamminess
Peat: peat
Richer: richer
Rocki: rocky, rockiness
Scallop: scallops, scallop, scalloped
Squirt: squirt, squirts
Succul: succulent, succulence, succulently
Sweeter: sweeter
Toast: toast, toasted, toasts, toasting
Watermelon: watermelon, watermelons
Chlorophyl: chlorophyl, chlorophyll
Dark: dark, darkly, darkness
Fleshi: eshy, eshiness
Furri: furry
Gritti: gritty, grittiness
Smooth: smooth, smoothly, smoothness,
smoothing, smoothed, smooths, smoothes
Textur: texture, textured, textural, textures,
Thick: thick, thickly, thickness
348 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
gure, cherryis the most common among red wines, and acidis the most
common for white wines. The relative frequency of the words is somewhat different
Fig. 2 - B/W online, B/W in print
between red and white wines. However, goodand herbare relatively frequent for
both types of wine.
VII. Discussion and Conclusion
Little consensus exists as to whether ecocertied wines are associated with worse,
similar, or better quality than their traditional counterparts. Although some wine-
makers argue that ecocertication improves wine quality, consumers are uncertain
about this association (Delmas and Lessem, 2015), and research showed a price in-
crease associated with ecocertication but a discount with wine ecolabeling (Delmas
and Grant, 2014).
In this study, we test the association between wine ecocertication and wine
quality as evaluated by wine experts. We use data from three leading wine-rating
publications (WA, WE, and WS) to assess quality for 74,148 wines produced in
California between 1998 and 2009. Our results indicate that the adoption of wine
ecocertication has a signicant and positive effect on wine ratings. Note that
wine operations might use similar practices as ecocertied operations but choose
not to obtain ecocertication. If so, our estimates would understate the impact of
such practices.
If ecocertied wine is associatedwith higher-quality wines, then it is surprising not
to see a premium associated with wine ecolabeling. We argue that several reasons
could explain this phenomenon.
Figure 2
Word Clouds Showing the Frequency of Word Use in Reviews of Ecocertied Wines
Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 349
First, wine experts might not represent accurately wine consumers. Wine experts
have much better knowledge about wine processes than most consumers and might
even be familiar with the wine practices of specic wineries. If indeed organic
certied wineries use superior wine practices and produce higher-quality wine, this
should be something known by wine experts. Second, as a related point, wine
experts have a better knowledge about wine ecocertication and are able to differen-
tiate between different types of ecolabels, namely organic wine and wine made with
organically grown grapes, which represent different wine production processes with
different impacts on quality. Indeed within the U.S. wine industry, there are several
competing ecolabels related to environmental certication that are still not well rec-
ognized and understood by consumers. For example, there are two USDA standards.
The rst of the USDA standards, wine made from organically grown grapes,
applies only to the production of the grapes, whereas the second, organic wine,
has prescriptions for the wine production process too. In particular, organic wine-
makers are prohibited from using sultes in the wine-making process. Because
sultes help to preserve the wine, stabilize the avor, and eliminate unusual odors,
wine produced without added sultes may be of lower quality (Waterhouse, 2016).
Such quality concerns are most pertinent for red wines, which are usually kept for
longer periods before consumption than white wines. This potential quality check
does not apply to wine made with organic grapes, to which winemakers may add
sultes in the production process. Third, it is also possible that wine experts have
a more favorable view of innovative wine practices and are trendsetters.
Our research is not without limitations. First, we focused on the California wine
industry, and it is possible that perceptions about ecocertication vary according
to the institutional context in which they are implemented and the specic standards
of ecocertication. Further research could expand the analysis to other countries,
such as France for example, where less confusion exists around the denition of eco-
certied wines. Second, although we were able to gather a comprehensive database of
wine ratings from the major wine experts, there is still some uncertainty about the
evaluation process and how much the wine experts actually know about the wine
before tasting it. Further research could conduct blind wine tasting to better
isolate the effect of organic certication. Third, due to the limited number of ecocert-
ied wines, we classied all types of ecocertied wines together. There might be
quality differences among the three different types that we do not account for, and
future research could investigate such differences.
Our research has important policy implications. An ecocertication premium is
essential for an ecoindustry to continue. Thus, any ecocertication initiative needs
to ensure that it will deliver such premiums. Focusing purely on information asym-
metries will not necessarily create ecolabels that align ecoproducts with the needs of
consumers. Instead, certication organizations need to work with producers and
marketers to ensure that ecocertied products provide information that clearly com-
municates their value proposition to consumers, without creating further confusion
or additional unintended product signals.
350 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
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Magali A. Delmas, Olivier Gergaud and Jinghui Lim 353
Table A1
Alternative Specications of Regressions of Scaled Score on Ecocertication
(1) (2) (3)
Dependent variable Scaled score Scaled score Raw score
Ecocertication 4.377* 4.016** 0.461*
(2.372) (1.913) (0.256)
Age 0.205 0.082 0.007
(0.232) (0.211) (0.027)
Cases (log) 2.955*** 1.926*** 0.256***
(0.136) (0.126) (0.016)
25th Percentile price < 75th percentile 1.759***
Price 75th percentile 3.405***
Certication experience 0.686* 0.747** 0.087*
(0.357) (0.352) (0.046)
Wine Advocate 17.431*** 12.066*** 2.093***
(1.142) (0.730) (0.088)
Wine Enthusiast 6.207*** 7.456*** 1.943***
(0.580) (0.545) (0.070)
Observations 47,943 74,148 74,148
Number of wineries 3,389 3,842 3,842
Adjusted R-squared 0.105 0.120 0.143
Missing case values Drop missing Dummy for missing Dummy for missing
Price No Yes No
Notes: ***, P< 0.01; **, P< 0.05; *, P< 0.1. Standard errors, robust and clustered by winery, shown in parentheses; varietal and region-vintage, as well as price and cases missing for column (2) dummy variables
included but not shown.
354 Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of ExpertsRatings
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