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Can a Wine Ever Really be ‘Clean’?

In general, it’s nice when things are clean. Clean clothes, clean lines, clean kitchens. The word has a way of reassuring people. Certainly, if something is clean, it must be naturally beautiful. And while that goes for a bunch of laundry, it’s not so clear what clean means when used to describe wine.

“When I hear the words“ clean ”and“ wine ”side by side, my brain turns itself off for a split second,” says Eric Moorer, director of sales and loyalty at Domestique, a natural wine store in Washington, DC. “I don’t like it as Descriptor and certainly not as branding. It is not a way of defining wine as you are simply talking about the product in front of you. Wine is about people and how to treat them and the earth. “

And yet “clean wine” is an ubiquitous phrase in modern wine marketing that is often used in the ever-growing intersection of wine and wellness culture. Wine brands keen to tap the $ 4.5 trillion wellness economy run 5,000 through vineyards or run luxury, four-digit price-priced wine and meditation retreats.

Most recently, actress Cameron Diaz and fashion CEO Katherine Power launched Avaline, a “new brand for clean wine,” according to a company press release. Last month, popular wine delivery company Winc entered the “clean wine” business with the launch of its own wine label The Wonderful Wine Co. Similar to Avaline, it does not sell as a natural wine, but as something that is wellness. adjoining, with language such as “organic”, “sustainably managed”, “low sulfites” and “no added sugar”. Similarly, former litigation attorney Sarah Shadonix founded Scout & Cellar, a direct selling company specializing in “cleanly made wines”, in 2017.

The clever marketing is aimed at people who want to be able to go to yoga class and then enjoy a “clean” rosé as a reward. The problem is, when it comes to wine, clean doesn’t necessarily mean what you might think.

Can a wine really be considered clean if consumers don’t even know what’s in the bottle? Is the expectation that wine drinkers only have to take the word of a brand for it?

“There are no legal definitions,” says Moorer. “There are reasonable guidelines, but there is nothing legal. Natural wine in its current form starts with a minimum of organic farming, but then there are differences between people where it comes from. The lack of control allows people to use keywords that match the intent of the people you are trying to sell to. “

Wine labeling is regulated by two federal agencies: the Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The latter handles the majority of the wines as it monitors anyone with an alcohol content of 7% or more. Although these agencies have the job of checking labels for accuracy and standards, these standards can be a kind of gray area.

For example, winemakers are not required to list nutritional information. Can a wine really be considered clean if consumers don’t even know what’s in the bottle? Is the expectation that wine drinkers only have to take the word of a brand for it?

“Most people assume that when they see a bottle of wine with a lock on it, a person – usually a man – owns that house, tends the vineyard, and makes the wine,” says Chevonne Ball, certified sommelier and French wine scientist behind the wine travel company Dirty Radish. “It’s not like that and it has not been the case for a long time. Consumers need to do a little more research to know who’s making their wine, and winemakers need to make that information a little easier to get and understand. “

Despite the lack of federal guidelines on how to market a wine, winemakers using the term “clean wine” could open the door to potential legal problems, explains Candace Lynn Bell, an attorney with intellectual property law firm Eckert Seamans Property. Bell has written extensively on branding issues related to wine, spirits, and craft beers.

Deerfield Ranch Winery is listed as having US federal trademark registration for the term “clean wine” when used with virtually any type of wine, Bell said. The registration was issued in June 2016.

“Clean wine can be a popular trend highlighting consumer demand to indicate on the label what goes into the wine you are drinking,” says Bell. “However, ‘clean wine’ users may have a branding battle at hand. Use of the ‘clean wine’ mark in connection with wines or other related goods may constitute trademark infringement. However, “clean wine” could be a term that is becoming, or has become, generic. Which side of the argument wins will be interesting to see. “

Whether or not “clean wine” remains the buzzword, consumers will still have the task of breaking through sophisticated marketing to really find out which wines are best for them. It’s a job they have to take on because no one else will be able to hold wine brands accountable.

“Life is crazy and wine is fashionable like everything else,” says Ball. “This is just a new fad. Personally, I think that consumers are very unrelated to the way products are made in general. If they had a better understanding of farming practices, they would all surely change the way they consume food and drink. “

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