Ever since Cameron Diaz and Katherine Power announced the launch of their “clean wine” label, Avaline, the wine industry has been pushing back against yet another attempt to bring the “clean” wellness trend into the wine space. From tracking down details about Avaline to deriding the entire trend, much virtual ink has been spilled on the topic.

Avaline isn’t the only brand in this space, though, and all the so-called “clean wine” companies rely on seemingly compelling claims and marketing mumbo jumbo that, under scrutiny from experts and wine professionals, doesn’t pass muster. So, let’s investigate some of these claims.

Dry Farm Wines / The Claim:

“The authentic wines we procure are exceptionally interesting and compelling expressions of taste and pleasure. When a wine is alive and free from overreaching modern influence, the wine will whisper in nature’s perfect logic and design. The wine will express nature joyfully and perfectly.”

Chris Miller, Master Sommelier, owner and winemaker at Seabold Cellars, Marina, Calif.:

“Well, this statement wins first prize for the most flowery bullshit I’ve ever heard without saying a single thing.”

Margot Mazur, beverage director, Wild Child Wine Shop, Somerville, Mass.:

“These terms are there to paint a picture for a consumer — one that is not necessarily an honest reflection of the wineries, or how the wines are made. These are marketing terms used to convince consumers to make that purchase. Supporting small businesses who have done their research and are committed to serving wines without chemicals, wines made by small farmers, wines that tell a story about their culture and history, is the way to go.”

Jill Zimorski, Master Sommelier, educator at the American Wine School in Chicago:

“By including ‘authentic,’ ‘interesting,’ and ‘compelling’ in their wine description it implies that ‘other’ wines are made inauthentically or are less compelling or interesting. Modern advancements and technology are some of the things that have allowed delicious wine to be made. Period. Modernity isn’t inherently bad. Does this mean that the fermentation takes place in amphorae? Without temperature control? Because stainless steel is a modern technological development and without even researching, based on style and price point alone, I’d be willing to bet many of these wines are fermented in stainless steel.”

Jenn and Brian Patterson, owners, Black Sheep Wine and Spirits, Lisbon, Portugal:

“Wine is either organically produced or it isn’t, it either has a lot of added sulfur or it doesn’t — these things are objective. They may not be perfectly set up for the anthropomorphizing of a fermented beverage, but these are the things that matter to real natural wine lovers. Using language like this, in our opinion, only serves to further make sincere natural wine lovers look like weird fetishists who talk to their wine glasses expecting a response.”

Dry Farm Wines / The Claim:

“Love wine, hate hangovers? … Did you know when wine is naturally created without chemicals or irrigation and allowed to fully ferment – it has no sugar (or carbs) and there are no nasty side effects. Which means you can enjoy wine and feel great the next day!”

Zimorski:

“Oh, this is a landmine. What causes hangovers is an excess of alcohol, which all wine contains, and dehydration. To claim that ‘naturally created’ wines that weren’t irrigated doesn’t cause hangovers is hilarious. I’ll volunteer to be part of a study on this BS. I’d love to see some data about how wines made from unirrigated grapes don’t cause hangovers. This is absolutely absurd. And fun fact, the majority of wines which are fermented to dryness have little to no residual sugar. Which means, duh, few carbs. They can’t claim dibs on the low sugar/carb argument — all dry wines share that.”

Brianne Cohen, DipWSET, wine educator and event producer in Los Angeles:

“I almost can’t entertain this with a response, but I will. Irrigation is not ‘bad’ in terms of making wine and certainly will have NO effect on whether the drinker ends up with a headache or not. Irrigation is used when the region the grapes are grown in does not have enough precipitation. Also, ALL wines have SOME sugar. Unfermented grapes start out with plenty of sugar, though most of the sugar is converted to alcohol during fermentation. To say a wine has no sugar is categorically incorrect as there are some sugars in a grape that are un-fermentable.”

Good Clean Wine / The Claim:

“All of our wines carry certifications listed on the table that indicate how clean the wine is. Symbols and letters on the label indicate the winemakers commitment to the environment, to the grape growing and to the winemaking process. To be classified and certified, both grape growers and wine makers must comply with strict standards regulated by the regions governing agencies. These ensure the quality, tradition and reliability of the wine. Certifications to look for: CCSW, SIP, PEAS, LIVE, DOC, DOCG, IGT, IGP, AOC, DO, IPR, DAC, QbA, VDP, VT, VR, Landwein, QWPSR.”

Miller:

“This is so patently absurd. Only a couple of these certifications could be even remotely interpreted to denote ‘how clean a wine is.’ It’s like the person writing this copy got their wine education out of a 5-year-old’s coloring book.”

The Pattersons:

“Most of these are standard classifications used by European winemaking regions to tell you what you are drinking and what level of classification it has achieved. Thank you to Good Clean Wine for pointing out the obvious. As to the others, sure, knock yourself out doing research on SIP versus LIVE and let us all know why those were used, when USDA-approved organic certification is right there for the taking.”

Zimorski:

“Some of these are certifications (LIVE), some are acronyms for appellations (DOC, IPR). Some are high quality and specific (DAC, DOCG, AOP) and some are very generic (Landwein, VR). A consumer would have no way to understand or even differentiate between them.”

Cohen:

“Many wines carry these certifications and are not under the Good Clean Wine brand. This is marketing language that means nothing in terms of what’s in the glass. Literally, the rest of the wine world uses these certifications!”

Scout & Cellar / The Claim:

“For a wine to be considered Clean-Crafted™, it goes through two rounds of independent lab testing to guarantee that it’s free of yucky stuff like synthetic pesticides and chemical additives and has fewer than 100 ppm of total sulfites. We also evaluate and review farming and production practices to confirm that they are, in fact, Clean-Crafted™.”

Zimorski:

“Trade-marked Clean-Crafted: This is the first sign of BS.”

Cohen:

“Looks like Scout & Cellar is working on or has trademarked the term ‘Clean-Crafted’ when it comes to wine. They literally made this term up. The problem is that they’re intending for the term to indicate what’s in the bottle and it gives consumers the feeling that there is meaning behind that term. There is not. Producers know exactly what goes into their wines as far as pesticides and additives. This new term is solely marketing lingo trying to ‘clean-wash’ their wines, similar to the green-washing problem in wine.”

Miller:

“The childish language here is just moronic. I’m not even going to speak to anything else regarding this company’s wine philosophies, as it is an MLM [multi-level marketing company]. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, 99 percent of people in an MLM lose money.”

The Pattersons:

“100 ppm is a lot of sulfur. Clearly and squarely in the middle, if not high zone for conventional wine making. Natural wine lovers have coalesced around 40 ppm as being the outer limits for a wine made naturally — many fans prefer a big fat zero in their added sulfur column. Bragging about 100 ppm is like Trump bragging about his intelligence test — just silly.”

Scout & Cellar / The Claim:

“Sulfites are naturally occurring antioxidant and antibacterial compounds in grapes and are utilized to protect the wine from oxygen until it reaches your glass. Because of the slow-crafted, intentional way Scout & Cellar wines are made, they require very little sulfur additions to remain stable. Most have less than 50ppm, all must have less than 100ppm. As a point of reference, the FDA allows up to 350ppm.”

Zimorski:

“What does slow-crafted and intentional mean? It’s a bunch of nonsense words strung together to sound like they mean something. And again, ppm of sulfur is mostly meaningless to consumers unless to perpetrate the debunked idea that sulfites cause headaches.”

Miller:

“Low sulfur is great. Big believer. But the MLM here is purposefully misleading the audience. As a percentage of production volume, most well-made wine in the U.S., for example, is going to have between 75 ppm to 150 ppm of sulfur, and even the huge wine companies that just pump this stuff out usually don’t stray above 200 ppm all that often for anything but the kind of stuff, that — well, if you’re drinking it — just be glad they DID put that much sulfur in it.”

Winc’s Wonderful Wine Co. / The Claim:

“Whenever possible, our wines are certified by an accredited third party (like the California Certified Organic Farmers).”

Zimorski:

“‘Whenever possible’ is awfully vague. I mean, whenever possible I try not to murder people.”

The Pattersons:

“In the U.S., for organics, there really is only one voice that matters and it’s the USDA. They set the standard on what constitutes organic — legally — and a product either is or it isn’t. Being approved by a third party or included in their club is nice, but it’s not really a certification in and of itself.”

Winc’s Wonderful Wine Co. / The Claim:

“Because our wines are low sugar, that makes them low carb as well. Wonderful Wines are tested to ensure they contain 3g/100mL or less of carbohydrates.”

Zimorski:

“This claim is THE WORST. Dry wines (red, white, and sparkling) are low in sugar because most of it has been fermented into alcohol. This is like saying, ‘our carrots are low fat,’ when in fact all carrots are fat-free. It’s just reframing to suit the purposes of the advertisement. Also, most consumers have NO IDEA what 3g/100mL of carbohydrates even means unless they’re tracking macros for a keto diet.”

Miller:

“This fact applies to, I don’t know, about 95 percent of all half-decent wine on the planet? Almost all wines fall into these guidelines, unless producers are specifically trying to capture residual sugar for a sweeter style, are making fortified wine, or some of the ‘bigger’ styles.”

Winc’s Wonderful Wine Co. / The Claim:

“Wonderful Wine Co. uses only plant-based ingredients (no fish bladders here!) because why use animal products when you could just, not?”

Miller:

“I have worked in wine production for almost 20 years and I have never seen a fish bladder in my life. They’re referring to an old-school practice: Still around for sure, but old-school. MOST wines are vegan. Again, this is like bragging about the sugar levels being so low. But they’re purposefully saying this in such a way that makes a consumer stop and think ‘Gosh, I’m so glad that THESE guys don’t do that kind of stuff…’”

The Pattersons:

“While I don’t have the figures to back it up, I would argue — strenuously — that less than .0001% of wineries on Earth still use animal-based products for fining, or the coagulation of proteins and solids that some wineries use before filtration. This is just pablum designed to make these wines appear special when they merely fall into the category that contains the overwhelming majority of wines produced on planet Earth.”

IN CONCLUSION

In examining the growing raft of “clean wine” marketers, a single question kept nagging us at VinePair. None of these companies reveal critical information about these wines, such as who grew it, who vinified it, and in some cases what vintage it is. Why is that? We asked the experts.

Miller:

“There are precisely four reasons not to tell you who produced the wine. 1. It’s a lifestyle-brand money grab by people who are good at social media, and they genuinely don’t even know themselves. 2. The actual wine producer doesn’t want to be associated with what’s in that bottle: They are selling off the barrels that they don’t want to use in their own labeled wines, so you’re getting a selection of their absolute worst juice, and only their worst juice, the stuff that there’s a good chance would’ve gone down the drain otherwise. 3. You could buy that producer’s ACTUALLY good wine cheaper than the crap they have here. 4. The wine company is lying to you about their sources, and they don’t want you to be able to fact-check.”

Shiels:

“These wine brands are marketing-based, not product-based. They market to consumers who are looking for a beverage they can feel good about, without too much work.  As such, you just need fanciful copy and pretty pictures, not any real information.”

Zimorski:

“What’s frustrating is that it’s not just consumers seeing these ads in glossy magazines and saying … ‘huh, I’ll try that.’ In just my case: Multiple people I follow on social media have included links and codes to these or similar wines and I have sent them all unsolicited DMs explaining that they’re endorsing something that is marketing mumbo jumbo.  These are folks who have running, cooking, healthy living presences — Instagram accounts, blogs, and websites with significant numbers of followers. They aren’t wine professionals, but they get sucked in, share a discount code or a link to their followers to purchase, and the ‘influencer effect’ takes over. I’ve had my best friends (not in the wine industry) and my mother send me messages inquiring about the validity of these wines. It’s a prolific problem and that it’s all built on wordsmithing and lifestyle imaging when it should be about the people, places, grapes, and methods.”

Mazur:

“I’d love a bit more visibility into these companies — what does ‘clean’ mean to them? Are you just looking at winemakers who don’t add sugar? Don’t add sulfites? Grow grapes organically? What about their labor practices — is that ‘clean?’ I’m assuming if you don’t even tell us who these producers are, you don’t actually have clear visibility into either their winemaking practices, their labor practices, or their political practices — or does that not matter as long as we don’t get hangovers?”