Clean wine: Has the Winestream Media finally figured out why we need nutrition and ingredient labels?

“Quick — bring the wine in so we can get it through the rinse cycle before anyone notices.”

The clean wine uproar in the cyber-ether has been led by the Winestream Media, which usually doesn’t much care about things like that

The recent uproar in the cyber-eher about clean wine, and that it isn’t necessarily clean, may turn out to be a key moment in dragging the wine business into the 21st century. For the first time, a host of wine writers who usually spend their time talking about toasty and oaky and hip and cool are discovering the need for transparency in wine ingredients.

Who knew it would only take 12 years for them to get to this point?

The light bulb moment for me came last week, when Erica Duecy wrote a post for the popular VinePair site, headlined: “The Industry Set Itself Up for a ‘Clean Wine’ Reckoning.” Duecy didn’t mince words: “You might think this would be a wake-up call for wine companies, that they would lean into the problem, looking to engage millennials where they’re at (reading product labels and online), with the messages they want to hear (nutrition and product information). Yet that’s not what’s happening.”

Harsh charges. But what matters is not that Duecy wrote the post or even what she wrote, but that it appeared on VinePair. The site offers lifestyle-oriented wine, beer, and spirits coverage for younger consumers similar to what the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate offer for their parents and grandparents – and that’s not necessarily Consumer Reports-like insight. Six recent VinePair posts: Cocktail influencers, an interview with a bourbon executive about “drinks innovations,” whether beer tastes better if it’s ”poured correctly,” Thai “moonshine,” and something called West Texas “ranch water” – which, apparently, we’re all drinking.

That VinePair took on the foolishness that is clean wine speaks volumes about where wine reporting may be heading.

Journalism, anyone?

For clean wine is foolish, as the story in the first link in this post documents (full disclosure – it was written by my editor at Meininger’s Wine Business International). Ostensibly, clean wine is made with nothing but grapes, yeast, and pure intentions, but clean wine producers aren’t especially forthcoming about what’s in their wine or how the grapes are grown. They can get away with this because ingredient labels are optional, and there’s no legal definition of clean wine anyway. So wine marketed as clean, a form of greenwashing, could have used the same additives and the same pesticides (or even more of each) as my $10 stuff.

And make no mistake, clean wine is all about marketing. Using the term may allow some producers to charge a one-third premium for their products, even if they aren’t all that different from “un-clean” wine.

In fact, I wasn’t going to write anything about clean wine. My first nutrition and ingredient labels post ran in 2008, about the time the federal government first broached the subject. I’ve been covering it regularly since then: So why irritate myself by pointing out – yet again – that it’s the wine business’ fault that clean wine exists, since it’s opposed to the nutrition and ingredient labels that would show clean wine for the marketing flummery that it is?

But then I saw the VinePair post, and figured I should add my voice. What’s the point of a little irritation if we can actually change something?

Photo: “Hand washing machine and trough National Trust for Jersey” by Man vyi is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

More about nutrition and ingredient labels:

The final “nutrition and ingredient labels for wine are a good thing” post
Update: Nutrition labels and what the wine business doesn’t understand
Nutrition labels for booze

3 thoughts on “Clean wine: Has the Winestream Media finally figured out why we need nutrition and ingredient labels?

  • By Robert P Behlendorf - Reply

    Ridge winery has, or had, probably the cleanest label of any. Just winery name, wine name if a blend, varietal, year and required alcohol content and verbage against a plain white background.. No dancing figures, fancy colors, just the facts, mam.And yet, the Ridge label was among the easiest to spot in a wall of wine facings at the local outlet. The point is, to add simple nutrition info to a simple wine label is a simple task and would not destroy the label’s appeal or “upscalicity”. Begs the question that, those who select a wine based on label appeal, get what they deserve. Revised wine labels could follow the Ridge model creatively without the fanciness. It is possible. Thank You.

  • By Robert P Behlendorf - Reply

    Apologies. Forgot to mention the additional piece of info on the plain Ridge label, was the region where the grapes were harvested. Now we’re good.Thanks again for providing the forum.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon - Reply

      Ridge is a long-time favorite on the blog, and have written about its ingredient labels many times. Would that more producers had Ridge’s good sense.

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