Cameron Diaz wants to convince people to drink better wine. How exciting is that? And better yet, she launched a ‘clean’ wine brand named Avaline back in 2020 – and it’s been a runaway success. But Cameron couldn’t be suspected of anything as crass as cynical capitalism could she? This is clearly a passion project for her, and for normal people like you and me. Because I’m assuming you also dislike hangovers.
I’ll get back to that.
Thank goodness that there is a plentiful supply of “clean crafted wine” to go around for anyone who can afford it. And if Avaline’s rosy rosé picnique-chique isn’t your colour scheme, you might prefer to spend your money with the Wonderful Wine Company. Here the vibe is less linen tablecloth, more the spunky eco-warrior fretting over the ethics of eating quinoa. For those of you brave enough to admit that you sometimes eat a burger, but still identify with living an “exceptionally healthy life” there is Good Clean Wine. Otherwise there’s Scout & Cellar, who somehow missed the message that ampersands went out of fashion in 2005. They champion “one of the most rigorous wine-growing standards in the entire industry”. There are more, but you get the picture.
Who should be interested in clean wine? It’s one of those things you didn’t know you needed before you did, a bit like a cigar from your own box. It seems to rankle the natural wine world, but surely they could at least be a little grateful for all the money they haven’t had to spend telling consumers to think about what they drink. You know this poster? Tell me it doesn’t say the same thing. What is different is that while the natty camp still argue about whether your soul is irredeemable if you add a bit of SO2, clean wine is simply the wild west. The dearth of science in support of any of their claims forms a deafening silence.
So how do we know that clean wines don’t give you hangovers? Good Clean Wine suggests this in no less eye-catching a place than its website tagline which is “The Best Clean Wine, No Headache”. Wonderful Wine is more coy with its disregard for science, just hinting at a clear head with the message, “Tackle the bottle and the next day – low sugar wines for a better morning after”. Both seem to bank on people not understanding the dehydrating effect of drinking too much alcohol.
“Wellness without deprivation” is another dangled pearl (as well as an oxymoron when you consider that anything bestowed with the W-word sells at a premium). So too is “pairs with a healthy lifestyle” – by which I assume they don’t mean the heart-pumping health benefits of keeping your vines weed-free with a hoe, but rather, avoiding products with colourants, concentrates and added sugars. But are they really suggesting that a glass of Chardonnay is in the same bracket as a nutrient shake?
The marketing goes further, adding the high-gloss sheen of branding clean wine paleo-friendly, keto or non-GMO. It’s wine like a caveman would make if cavemen had the benefit of viticultural degrees. Which brings us to another sword the clean wine brigade likes to wave: transparency.
Did you notice the lack of ingredient lists? Conventional wisdom says what you don’t know won’t kill you, but drinking arsenic might. Not that the clean wine brigade wants to scare you. Thank goodness they’ve drawn our attention to things we never thought to worry about in wine before (carbs, gluten, unfermented sugar). And wonder of wonders, the same people who pointed out the problem also conveniently have the solution. Scot ampersand Cellar is busy “auditing its partners to ensure grapes are grown and wine is made in accordance with our “rigorous standard”. while failing to define what that rigorous standard might be. There is talk of lab-testing and thresholds and something called a “Soil-to-Sip Report”, alongside a total lack of conventional information such as where the grapes are grown. At least to a greater level of accuracy than just ‘France’.
Nonetheless, sustainability, lifestyle, health: drinking wines with no additives made from healthy vineyards is a no-brainer isn’t it? So why is everyone getting their knickers in a twist? I suspect it’s just sour grapes – after all, the natty wine peeps were nothing like as successful in convincing us on the no-hangover thing.
The USA Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recently communicated that the word “clean” should not be used to describe the health benefits of a product. It will be interesting to see which legal implications this has for the marketing of clean wine in the near future.