Meg Houston Maker reports on the implications of this new commercial ‘cleaner than thou’ vinous phenomenon, as sketched out by the wine journalist and editor, who sees it as possibly being hugely harmful and offers a wake-up call for the wine industry.
Felicity Carter’s been writing about wine for 20 years. “In all of that time,” she says, “I haven’t seen anything as potentially damaging and dangerous to the wine industry as this.” That menace is so-called Clean Wine.
Although principally an American phenomenon, the trend is gaining traction worldwide — and it is big business. New brands like Avaline, Good Clean Wine Company, Winc, FitVine, and Dry Farm Wines have enjoyed strong commercial success by exploiting consumer interest in health and wellness. These companies hawk their wines as being free of toxins, additives, pesticides, flavorings, colorings, animal by-products, and added sugar. They claim they won’t cause hangovers. They claim they’re healthful.
Some brands also integrate messages about sustainability and green farming practices, but most of the marketing emphasizes consumption, not production. “It’s very hard to find out where the wines actually come from,” says Carter. The companies bank on consumer apathy about a wine’s origin story. “This isn’t an authenticity movement,” she says. “This is about the health claims.”
The marketing even tips into mysticism and pseudo-science, with messaging, subtle or otherwise, that the wines help the drinker feel pure, uncontaminated, and morally elevated. They’re positioned as not merely better for your body, she says, “They’re better for your soul.” The implication, of course, is that all other wines are not only toxic, but evil.
Wine does, of course, contain a toxin: alcohol. Wine may also, like many foods (including aged cheese, charcuterie, and tinned fish), contain substances called biogenic amines. People who are sensitive to these compounds, which build up in the body over the course of a day, may experience respiratory distress and other illnesses. Often wine gets the blame.
But scientific studies (and standard winemaking practices) do not support Clean Wine’s claims that most wines contain added sugar, pesticide residues, GMOs, and other contaminants. And it’s certainly false to claim any wine is truly “healthful.”
It is illegal in the U.S. and many other countries to make health claims about wine, but enforcement has been toothless. Carter expects the Clean Wine brands could get a wake-up call under the Biden administration. Also, the W.H.O. has alcohol in its sights, and ingredient disclosure labeling is imminent — in Europe, at least.
She offers a cautionary tale from the tobacco industry. For years these companies had made positive health claims about their products, but in 1994, they were slapped with substantial fines for false advertising, and it was the beginning of the end for Big Tobacco. “They weren’t banned or fined because their cigarettes were bad for you,” Carter observes. “They got into trouble because they lied.”
In other words, blatant falsehoods by a few can affect an entire sector. “If the wine industry goes down this road of lying about wines — saying that some wines are healthy, some wines are good for you, and other wines are full of toxins — this is where we might end up.”
“I think the only thing we can do,” she concludes, “is stick to facts.”
Watch Felicity Carter’s webinar on the Circle YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/k_BCdownIsk
Main photos and questionable yoga pose taken from goodclean.wine