In the summer of 2020, as the world struggled to come to terms with the Covid pandemic, the US actress Cameron Diaz and her business partner, Katherine Power, launched a wine brand called Avaline. Apart from the celebrity connection, their product stood apart by being a ‘clean’ brand, ‘made with organic grapes and free of additives like powdered tannins that help with fermentation and fining agents that remove unwanted flavours.’
Over the first two months after it hit the market, Avaline sold 10,000 cases of white and rosé at prices of $20-25. According to Nielsen, during July 2020, the white was among the 10 best selling ultra-premium blends.
‘Clean’ Wine: Promise of a Healthy Product
Avaline’s success drew attention to ‘clean’ wine, a growing US category that had previously gone largely unnoticed. Before Avaline, there was Winc – the Wonderful Wine Co offering “clean wine for better living… for paleo people, party people, and everyone in between” and the Good Clean Wine Co, whose wines “pair with a healthy lifestyle”. Another business, Scout & Cellar boasts a ‘Clean-Crafted Commitment’ guaranteeing that its wines are “grown with no synthetic pesticides, vinified with no synthetic additives and no added sweetener, then lab tested at the end to confirm the same.”
As former Meininger’s editor Felicity Carter pointed out in an article in the Guardian, many of the ‘clean’ brands are very reticent about where their wines were made and by whom. Scout & Cellar, for example, described their $25 Gallivant Chardonnay as being produced by an unnamed fifth-generation family winery founded in Monterey in 1883. How different might that wine be to the Morning Fog Chardonnay on offer from Wente Bros, a fifth-generation family winery founded in 1883 in Monterey, on sale for just $18?
New Regulations: Prohibition of Untrue Health-Related Statements
It is not the pricing of these wines that bothers the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). What concerns them is the “increasing number of alcohol beverage advertisements…suggesting a relationship between alcohol beverage consumption and purported health benefits or effects”.
In a four-part newsletter, the TTB reminded the industry that untrue health-related statements are against the law, as is any effort that “tends to create a misleading impression of the effects of alcohol consumption on health.”
“If the term ‘clean’ is used in a way that suggests that consumption of alcohol will have health benefits and/or that the health risks otherwise associated with alcohol consumption will be mitigated, the term’s use may be prohibited. For example, ‘X malt beverage is clean and healthy”’ or ‘Y vodka’s clean production methods mean no headaches for you’”.
The only use of ‘clean’ that is condoned is where the adjective refers to the way the beverage tastes. So ‘X winery makes clean, crisp wine’ would be allowed.
The End of Clean Wine?
Quite where this leaves a business that is actually named the Good Clean Wine Co is another question, but it seems as though that company and a number of other brands and brand-owners – including Diaz and Powers’ Avaline – will have to rewrite their marketing material.