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Every year the world of organic wine descends on Montpellier in the last week of January for Millésime Bio, now the largest professional wine fair in the world.

Millésime Bio started in a small way 27 years ago in Montpellier with some 40 organic producers from Languedoc-Roussillon. It has now made its home in the Parc des Expositions on the southern outskirts of Montpellier. Millésime Bio has grown enormously since its modest beginnings back in 1993. For the 2020 edition there were around 1,350 exhibitors from every part of wine producing France and 20 other countries, spread across five large exhibition halls. In addition, 57 producers of beer, cider and various spirits were present.

It is a testament to the growth of organic viticulture that Millésime Bio has just about doubled in size since 2017 when there were around 770 exhibitors. It also, however, reflects a change in the policy of the organizers, who used to try to limit the number of exhibitors and there was a waiting list to get in. That policy has clearly changed and they are now going for growth.

Millésime Bio is admirably egalitarian: everyone has the same size table no matter how big or small the domaine or company is. No place for the expensive, showy bling stands found at many other professional wine fairs. Unfortunately there are no regional or by country groupings. Instead the exhibitors are scattered haphazardly across the five enormous halls. This makes trying to taste wines from a particular region or country a nightmare!

It seems inevitable in France that professional wine fairs always attract alternative events (Salons Off’s) and this is certainly true for Millésime Bio. Some of these events such as Vinifilles (a group of female wine producers in Languedoc-Roussillon founded in 2009), an official tasting of Languedoc wines and The Outsiders (a group of newcomers to the region celebrating its 10th year) are held on Sunday, so complementary and not in competition with the main fair. However, there were a number of other events, for instance BioTop, Vins de Mes Amis, Les Affranchis and Route 66, that started on Sunday and ran through Monday, so were in direct competition.

I begin wonder whether Millésime Bio has reached its physical capacity limit. Exhibitors in some of the halls are well tucked away from the main action and are at a disadvantage and some, like François Crochet (Sancerre) were clearly not happy.

However, the number of organic producers continues to increase. The latest figures (2018) show that in France, for instance, there are now 6,726 organic or biodynamic producers including those in the three-year conversion period, farming 94,021 hectares. In 2008 there were only 2,301 organic producers farming 27,189 hectares. The progression appears to be speeding up: in 2018 there were 13,968 hectares of vines in the first year of conversion compared to 8,616 the previous year – already the biggest increase since 2010.

Last year Germany was the largest consumer of organic wine accounting for 19% of the production; France followed at 17.1%; then the UK (10.2%) and Italy (7.6%). By 2023 it is estimated that France will become the No 1 consumer accounting for 20.2% pushing Germany (17.6%) into second place followed by USA (9.8%) and UK (9.3%).

Despite its size, Millésime Bio remains one of my essential annuals fairs. The well-known writer and blogger Jamie Goode, making his first visit, was impressed by everyone having the same table and by the good conditions for tasting, saying: ‘It is certainly a fair I would come back to.’

SHORT BIO

Jim Budd has been writing about Loire wine since 1988, a year after he bought a house with his friends in the Cher Valley. Jim writes for Wine Behind The Label as well as his own blog Jim’s Loire.