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Gabrielle Vizzavona
/ 05 Jan, 2022
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[Rendez-vous with…] Jean-Yves Lingner "The HVE certification needs more stringent and geared to wine specifications"

Trained French winemaker Jean-Yves Lingner has lived in Norway for 15 years and works for the Norwegian branch of the family-owned Danish company Robert Prizelius. The company was established nearly a century ago and handles sales of 4 million litres of beverage alcohol in Norway. Half of that volume is wine and half spirits, and 90% is sold to the state monopoly through import licences with a balance sold directly to the restaurant trade. Lingner speaks about environmental endorsements, which do not all carry equal weight even though they are gaining traction in Norway.

Gabrielle Vizzavona: What are the wine consumption trends in Norway?

Jean-Yves Lingner: People don't drink much during the week, but they treat themselves at the weekend. Having said that, wine consumption is growing at the expense of beer and spirits. The average price of a bottle is around 15 euros, because taxes are very high in Norway. A bottle starting out at 5 euros ends up at 15 euros. But the taxes, which are partly flat rate and linked to the volume of alcohol, decline on more expensive bottles. Here, it is better to buy a good bottle of wine than a cheap one! Conversely, consumers don't pay much attention to vintages. Pinot Noir and Crémant de Bourgogne are definitely on-trend, offering wines that are also easy to drink when young. Every year, the latest Burgundy vintage is launched in February – the 2019s are due out this year and it is a big event. Enthusiasts queue up, sometimes for a week, sleeping in a tent, to get their hands on rare wines, released that day by importers who have allocations. Some come away with tens of thousands of euros worth of purchases. The standard of living is high here, and people are not afraid to pay the price. 

G.V.: What is the situation for formats and packaging?

JY.L.: In the Scandinavian countries – and Norway is no exception – boxed wines are the predominant format, accounting for 60% of the market. Consumers have increasingly high expectations of recycled materials, which are lighter in weight and have a smaller carbon footprint. There is strong demand for PET (recycled plastics) as well as for wine pouches, which have come along in leaps and bounds.

G.V.: Are environmental endorsements in demand?

JY.L.: The state wine monopoly has clearly set its sights on bringing products that are environmentally-friendly into the Norwegian market. For over a year now, Vinmonopolet has ramped up its calls for tenders on certified organic wines, and HVE-certified wines. It's a very topical issue, everyone is talking about it, even though Norwegian consumers are not necessarily very receptive to the concept yet. Unlike in Sweden, Norwegian consumers are not going to buy a bottle of wine just because it is organic. If the wine is organic, that's fine, but more importantly, it has to be good!

G.V.: Is the HVE endorsement as highly valued as organic for Norwegian consumers?

JY.L.: The HVE endorsement is not well-known yet, less so than organic. The categories represent 5% and 15% of the range respectively, which is still low. The problem with the HVE scheme is that the criteria are not very well established. It is fairly easy to achieve HVE certification compared to organic certification. For example, the quantity of inputs is related to turnover, without any discrimination as regards the branch of farming. The plant protection criterion does not pass muster when it comes to winegrowing, where the end product has high added value, making the thresholds very easy to reach and allowing a large number of producers to meet the certification criteria. In 2020, the number of HVE producers doubled, but for the endorsement to have any value, it needs specifications that are much more stringent and geared to wine.

G.V.: More generally speaking, how could certifications move the dial?

JY.L.: There should be a certification linked to management of water, which is used a lot in wine production. To make a bottle of wine, you need 10 litres of water. Water is becoming an issue, and it should become a significant selection criterion but lacks supervision. We can't cut the amount of water used for health safety reasons, but we can manage this resource better, by implementing filtering systems and reusing water in closed-loop circuits. There are opportunities for change. The criteria linked to social responsibility should also be promoted more. This is very much the case in the New World countries (and the monopoly requests these certifications) but less so in Europe. The younger generation is very environmentally aware, receptive to waste sorting and social aspects and this will rapidly be taken into consideration when selecting a wine.

A CONVERSATION WITH… Jean-Yves Lingner, wine director with Norwegian importer Robert Prizelius: “The number of HVE-certified producers has doubled, but for the endorsement to have any value, it needs specifications that are much more stringent and geared to wine”.
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