January 19, 2021 6 min read
Welcome back to another installment in the “VS” series (See our other blog in this series Wine Ratings vs Lucky Rock), where we wax lyrical and dissect the various wine related concepts. This time we discuss a term that has surfaced recently but has enough pretentiousness to definitely “grind our gears”. We are talking, of course, about “Clean Wine”. Now, you may not be familiar with this term, to which we say: “good!” But it’s one of those terms that likes to masquerade as something good and positive and revolutionary for the wine industry, but is really nothing but fluff and hype. So, let’s “clean up” some misconceptions and talk more about this confusing and misleading term.
While the term is undefined(good start), on the surface, it is wine that is made with health as its primary mission. The adjectives included in the “Clean Wine” movement are the millennial classics like “keto and paleo friendly”, “vegan wine”, “low sulfite”, “hangover-free” and “made with sustainable grapes”. These terms, just like the rest of the concept is vague. It might be helpful to think about clean wine in terms of a sort of holistic approach. Just like garlic and wooden stakes are used to ward off vampires, “clean” wines are used to ward off an unpleasant hangover? We’ll keep working on that metaphor. The only thing for sure is, clean wine brands seem to cost a little extra bit of moolah. Is the quality worth the price? It’s subjective, but if you want to see what we think check out our take in this video.
To get to the core of the subject, maybe it’s more helpful to ask what the marketers behind the catch-all term of Clean Wine claim? Because, once you dig just a little deeper into their assertions, there is nothing special about Clean wine.
We’re fans of marketing slogans and this is a good one, we will give it that. But overall, this term is trying to connect alcohol to health, which is unethical. If you enjoy quality wine responsibly, any wine can claim to pair with a healthy lifestyle. We can claim that “Lucky Rock makes you better looking” and it has the same level of factual accuracy as the statement above.
This CAN be good. No artifice there, it is positive that these brands don’t want to injure the environment and promote a healthy ecosystem. We appreciate their attempt to not be ecological assholes. The synthetic chemicals they are referring too are herbicides and pesticides applied in the vineyard. They still use weed and pest killers, but they just go for the ones labeled organic which means they were produced from living matter instead of engineered from minerals. What’s interesting is that sometimes organic vineyard management can be as damaging as synthetic. We won’t dive into it here, but check this article out of you want to get geeky.
A great key term but isn’t really applicable in the world of wine (you may be seeing a trend here). All wines are vegan at the start, but there is a process in winemaking called fining, when various solid particles are removed from wine with help from some additives. In this pesky step, you may use egg whites, casein (milk protein) and isinglass (substance derived from fish bladders). There are many other options that a winemaker can take and if they just skip the animal product additions then voila, vegan wine. We welcome the additional labelling and information the brands provide, but “Vegan” is not unique attribute for “Clean” wine.
Since trendy diets like Atkins (remember Atkins Diet? It’s called Keto now) came out into the stratosphere, alcohol brands have been trying their best to be associated with these diets. But the reality is, as any dietitian will tell you, alcohol and diets do not go together. Basically, all of what these clean wine promoters are saying is that because these wines are dry and low alcohol, they have less carbs and are healthier than others that have some residual sugar and/or no carbs. It is a moot point considering a lot of wines who don’t position themselves as low carb have the same characteristics. If you want to drink healthy…er, buy dry wines with lower alcohol. If you want to enjoy life, buy Lucky Rock?
Just like with synthetics this is good. Take care of your environment, leave the earth better than when you started, yadi yadi yada. But these days, almost all wineries take this path. We at Lucky Rock work with almost exclusively sustainable grapes and are shoot to be 100% sustainable. All of Sonoma County has officially transferred to sustainable practices. The Europeans were utilizing various types of sustainability and organic practices since before the U.S. was a country. The only stragglers are big “Death Star-like” publicly traded corporations that care more about the bottom line than they do about Sustainability (this is changing, slowly, for the better) and we recommend not to drink wine without soul anyway, partially because of their corporate-ness…but mostly because you could be supporting small business. The point is, nothing makes Clean Wine any different or special than most other wines and the fact that they are trying to capitalize on people who want to live healthy and don’t want to learn about wine is par for the course when it comes to riding a marketing trend.
Nobody adds sugar in the US. It is illegal. But it sounds better than “no concentrated grape must added to sweeten the wine”, which is legal but, it is found added to subpar wines to cover flaws. Even then it’s a 1-5 grams per liter vs 61 grams per liter in Coca-Cola. In California especially, adding sugar generally unnecessary, as there is enough natural sugar produced within the grapes themselves.
SO2 is a great antioxidant and preservative that is used in many things we consume. Unless you only shop at off-the-grid farmers markets, you probably consume more SO2 with your carrots and celery than you ever will in a bottle of wine. In production, it is a great protector of wine, and keeps grapes and wine fresh as they move from one stage of winemaking to the other. Some SO2 is produced naturally during fermentation. So, while it is good that these brands are trying to keep SO2 to it’s natural minimum, this is only really impactful to those people who have sulphite sensitivity and won’t effect most people.
Editor’s note: This is bullsh*t, We call bullsh*t. Mostly because the headache you get is mostly from dehydration and overconsumption of alcohol, possibly histamine present (in red wines, mostly), and your body's struggles to break down aldehydes. And as far as we’re aware, the Clean wines out there are not truly low alcohol (below 10%). They still affect the body mainly the same way. But here is what we, self-proclaimed doctors- prescribe: drink whatever you want, drink smart, drink water, eat, and get some sleep. This, in our lives has worked the best to prevent headaches.
“When it comes to clean wines, the only thing being cleaned is your wallet,” a quote from Felicity Carter, editor of Meininger’s Wine Business International magazine and a person far smarter than we are.
Look… we don’t mind companies wanting to enhance the well-being of others. We don’t mind clever marketing strategies. But when sh*t is misleading, we will get on our soapbox and shout it out until we are either heard or removed and never allowed back into a Macys again (long story) And we’re not alone. If you look up clean wine on Google, currently, you will see three paid ads selling the wine and a billion blog posts denouncing it as complete marketing BS. So, if you hopped onto this blog because you like our prose, we thank you and hope you took something away from this.
If you want to see this rant, but in a visual form, check out our video.
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