It’s a great word.
So much better for marketing than ‘dirty’, which – unless you are talking about weekends, Martinis or dancing – is frankly rather negative.
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that there are now at least a couple of dozen recipe books whose titles include the words ‘Clean Eating’ or ‘Clean Food’. Clean Eating magazine, started by Robert Kennedy and his wife, sells over 200,000 copies, eight times a year, and has a Facebook page with over three-quarters of a million likes.
Where food has led, wine had to follow and ‘clean wine’ is now also a ‘thing’. Many people have just been introduced to the term thanks to the widely trumpeted news that actress Cameron Diaz has launched a new ‘clean wine’ brand called Avaline, working with her friend, the entrepreneur Katherine Power.
The Hollywood star is also the author of a 2013 New York Times bestseller called The Body Book, in which she wrote about the “inseparable link between nutrition and the body”. In her new venture, according to Forbes, she’s reacting to the revelation that “the overwhelming majority of wines…could be legally adulterated with dozens of chemicals and flavoring components.” Unlike her $24 Avaline Catalunyan white and Vin de France rosé which are certified as organically grown and made free from “unnecessary extras”, and which are thus ‘clean’.
Diaz’s casual demonisation of the majority of the wine industry will strike a familiar chord with anyone who has followed the progress of the natural wine movement, whose proponents explicitly do the same thing, pointing to the “more than 70 additives” that can be found in some wines – as if all conventional wines had 70 different additions in the one glass, or as if conventional wine didn’t sit on a spectrum from cheap mass-market wines to hand-crafted, artisanal wines.
The Natural Wine Co’s website is more specific, directly asserting that “most wines sold in the United States contain ‘color enhancers’, preservatives, chemical stabilizers, Mega Purple™, ‘oak essence’, sugar, acid and the like”.
The natural wine lovers have set out to question the integrity of conventional wine and they have succeeded – at last, the question of wine labelling is being taken seriously. That’s one result. The other one is the ‘clean wine’ movement, the bastard child of natural wine. Unlike its natural parents, 'clean wine' is consciously commercial, marketing-driven and searching for profits.
Natural wine, I have been repeatedly told is a philosophical movement, led by small, independent-minded producers. Clean wine, on the other hand, is big business – driven by people like Power, whose background includes the fashion brands Clique and Who What Wear and Versed skincare. As an entrepreneur, Power is not alone in understanding the value of associating the word ‘clean’ with its strength in other sectors.
Thrive Markets, a club-based business with 500,000 members which aims to “make healthy living easy and affordable for every American family” offers a range of 6,000 grocery items including ‘clean beauty’ products. There are also four-bottle ‘clean wine starter packs’ for just under $60.
Then there are The Wonderful Wine Co. wines from Winc, a five-year-old company with $45m backing from investors like Bessemer Venture Partners, Shining Capital, and Cool Japan Fund, that describes itself as” a data-driven winery that uses real-time customer feedback to make culturally relevant wines at speed & scale”. Winc can market these ‘clean-crafted wines’ to its more than half a million subscribers, and through Whole Foods stores.
Notably, the selling point of many of these wines is the process by which they’ve been made. You will sometimes struggle to find information about the land they came from, or the people who made them.
But their benefit is that, unlike natural wines, no palate adjustment is required for people used to drinking conventional wines. Nor will the consumer have to wade through arcane details like sulphur levels, wild yeast, fining or filtering. The clean wine business can just say “we’re certified organic and clean”. Oh, and “certified vegan”, too.
For the sake of clarity, let me state that I vehemently hate the idea of using the word “clean” to describe alcohol, a carcinogenic poison, and I hate the bullshit behind describing a wine as gluten-free, as Diaz does. However, there are no laws to stop entrepreneurial wine businesses and celebrities from piggybacking onto a widely recognised term and turning low intervention into something larger than the natural wine world could ever have imagined. And, if it means that people switch from Barefoot to a sustainably or organically produced Barefoot Clean, in the way they have switched from fast food burgers to the Impossible Burger, will that be an entirely bad thing?
Like a fine wine, the argument is complex.
As the natural wine world has just discovered, when you raise an issue, you create a new market. Which means a new market opportunity is waiting to happen.
I’m off to launch the Deliciously Dirty Wine Co. Anyone care to join me?