There. End of post.
OK, not really.
What, exactly, is a “clean” wine? Hell if I know. There is no legal, or even standard, definition. The only consistent thing about “clean” wine is that no one can agree on what it is. People can’t agree whether it’s a trend or a movement, bullshit or commercial genius. As near as I can tell, “clean” wine is supposed to be a wine made from some combination of sustainable, organic, or biodynamically grown grapes, with minimal intervention in the winery. Basically, it’s the idea that wine should be made in a vineyard, not a laboratory.
Right. That sounds like any high-quality wine made with thoughtfully grown grapes, by reputable producers, in small(ish) quantities. These wines are already “clean”. They don’t need a celebrity or a wellness maven to tell you they are.
The world doesn’t need “clean” wines. They already exist.
Wine Twitter went berserk last week after Cameron Diaz launched her “clean” Avaline wines, and then this quote (and it’s a doozy) from Michelle Feldman, co-founder of Good Clean Wine, appeared in Business Insider:
“I look for wines with vintage year on the label. Natural wines will include the year it was harvested, grape variety, and the region it was grown on the label. Regular wines can’t claim a vintage, region, nor grape because they’ve been made with a medley of unnatural ingredients.”
Actual footage of my reaction:
Admittedly, wine has a bit of a transparency problem, because wine labels aren’t required to list ingredients. And that’s a valid issue to raise. But at a minimum, all wine label in the US are required to list a producer name, vintage date, grape variety, and region of origin on the label.
Additionally, American wines are required to list the bottler, city and state on the label. Most often, you’ll see this as “Produced and Bottled by”. Imported wines are required to list the name and address of the importer on the label.
Look for the words, produced and bottled by on the back of the label (these are bottles I grabbed from my wine stash at random to illustrate):
It’s important to point out that neither Avaline nor Good Clean Wine are wineries — they’re brands. They’re made in a winery somewhere outside of the United States (Avaline white is made in Spain and the Rosé is made in Provence; the Good Clean wines are all made in Italy), but we don’t know exactly where or by whom. Then they are shipped back to, marketed, and only available in, the United States.
The Avaline bottle lists the importer (itself), but nothing to indicate where the wine was produced and bottled other than, “Product of Spain”.
Labels aside, I’m uncomfortable with the clean/natural wine marketing implication that if you aren’t drinking “clean” wines, you’re drinking dirty, polluted, toxic ones. “Clean” wine is virtue signaling at its worst, and it’s simply not true.
At the end of the day, clean wine is business. Avaline and Good Clean Wine didn’t launch because these folks feel some kind of moral obligation to be the ingredient police (btw, they don’t list all their ingredients on the labels, either). They’re capitalizing on a trend. Or a movement. Or whatever the hell this is. And hoping to make piles of money.
“Clean” wines aren’t marketed to to wine professionals. I’ve studied wine for years. And I have an advantage over other wine consumers in that I know what, and where, to look for quality wines. “Clean” wines are being marketed to folks who might genuinely want to buy carefully made wines, but don’t know where to start looking.
A good starting point (but my no means the only point) is technical (aka tech) sheets. If transparency, provenance and quality are important to you, before you buy a wine, take 45 seconds and look up the wine on your smartphone. If you can’t find a tech sheet (sometimes they’re called fact sheets) on the winery’s website, be at least somewhat skeptical. If you can’t find a winery name or a listed winery doesn’t have a website at all, be highly skeptical.
Tech sheets give you all sorts of valuable information — at a minimum, they tell you where the wine was made, which grape varieties were used, when and how the grapes were harvested, what kind of soils the grapes were grown in, farming and irrigation practices, how much wine was made, how it was pressed, how it was fermented, how it’s been stored/aged, how it was fined/filtered, whether SO2 was added, how much alcohol, residual sugar, total acidity, and pH levels.
Sometimes, there isn’t so much a tech sheet as there is a little blurb on “technical data”. But there should be at least some information available on either the winery’s website or on the distributor’s website. Also (just a heads-up), it can sometimes be a challenge to find tech sheets for wines at some of the smaller wineries outside of the US. And if you do find them, sometimes they aren’t in available English.
Good Clean Wine? No tech sheet. Cameron Diaz’ Avaline? No tech sheet.
I’m 100% for buying wine made in a vineyard, not a laboratory. But wine produced from thoughtfully grown grapes, made by a small or medium sized wineries who genuinely care about their craft, will satisfy that goal in spades. You don’t have to buy a wine that says it’s “clean” to drink one.