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What Is Clean Wine

Have you heard the term “Clean Wine”? If you are on social media and brush up against any sort of wine content then it is likely that you have. Do you know or wonder what that means? Is it intriguing? The TTB recently released a statement on the use of “Clean Wine” in wine marketing communications.

Wait, what is the TTB and why should you care? The Alcohol Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) is a regulatory body that oversees wine. Most don’t know this, but it is illegal for a brand to promote the health benefits of an alcoholic beverage.

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BUT IS IT CLEAN?

Let’s get into it! At its essence, I think it is fair to say that clean wine is referring to wine that is farmed organically and made without gnarly additives. But wait, you may be thinking…what is wrong with that? In a word: nothing. We can all get down with being thoughtful about what we put into our bodies, even stuff with alcohol.

But is it CLEAN? This is where it gets murky. A few years ago, a few brands began marketing their wines as clean, but rather than focus on their own practices, they pushed into two areas:

  1. Thinly veiled finger-pointing insinuating everyone else is “dirty”.
  2. Promoting the health benefits of their <alcohol> product.

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When winemakers use the word clean they are typically talking about one of three things:

  1. Cleaning – It’s been said that making wine is 50% cleaning, 48% moving heavy shit and 2% drinking beer.
  2. Wine faults – A wine that is free of spoilage organisms (brett, volatile acidity, reductive compounds) that make the wine smell or taste off.
  3. Taste descriptor – For example, “This Sauvignon Blanc tastes crisp and clean”.

You may have seen online ads with glasses full of sugar cubes suggesting that others are loading their wines with incredibly large amounts of sugar. If these ads come across your feed, then I bet you have also seen a few brands suggest that their elixers won’t give you a headache/hangover like those other <dirty> guys.

First of all, it is illegal to add sugar to wine in California. With that said, some wineries get around this by adding grape concentrate, which is basically sweet grape juice aka mega purple. Second, and perhaps most relevant, the lion’s share of wines do not contain that much residual sugar. This Wine Folly chart is super useful:

REAL TALK

Let’s cut the BS, shall we? This is marketing language meant to stoke your emotions through a combination of fear and telling you what you want to hear. Consider the global supplement business is around $150 BILLION…all those magic fixes! These tactics work.

Friends…it’s the alcohol, which we discussed here. Drinking too much alcohol will give you a hangover. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. Everything in moderation (including moderation). Now, if you do want to get into the weeds about this, there IS something you can do.

Drink wines that are lower in alcohol – <maybe> fewer hangovers and calories.

Lots of wine insiders have long bristled at clean wine marketing, but we get it. It sounds good. It’s a tagline that clearly conveys a message that massages our human desire to rationalize and placate…tell us that what we want to do is OK.

Drinking wine is OK.
Caring about what you put in your body is OK.
Caring about ingredients and organic farming is OK.
Many, including the TTB, would posit that sleight of hand, supposition and false claims are not.

Get to know the people behind the label. Who are they? What do they believe in? How do they communicate with you? We are all bombarded with bullshitty advertising – it is tiresome and exhausting. Wine is supposed to be pleasurable – not a test.

Do you want to be spoken to or sold? Many marketers do not give “consumers” much credit.

We think you’ll know it when you see it.

Groove Wines believes that alcohol should be enjoyed responsibly at all times.
Never drink and drive. Have a designated driver. Do not drink on an empty stomach.

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