When Cameron Diaz released her Avaline wine brand this year, she felt the heat for using terms like “clean wine.” The wine community trashed the wine, stirring up some controversy around what clean wine actually means and whether it’s only a marketing ploy.
It also raised the question for consumers—what the heck is clean wine?
First, the problem with this term is that it implies that wine is normally dirty…or really, that it can ever be clean (millions of fruit flies died to make your glass of wine, and natural fermentation uses yeast that lives in the air). Cameron and her partner Katherine Powers claimed that they were surprised by how much bad stuff was normally in wine.
Pesticides and Preservatives
However, most artisan producers aren’t really adding stuff in their wines. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but most wines in Avaline’s price point won’t have weird preservatives in them.
Just like food, mass-produced wine often does have additives and is made with grapes that probably had a bunch of pesticides. Basically, huge companies that make cheap wine want to make a lot of wine for very little investment, so they are going to use pesticides and fertilizer to make sure they get a huge crop. This isn’t great for flavor, as it get watered down, and those chemicals are not great for us either.
There is not a lot of transparency about what additives are allowed in wine, but the most common one is sulphur. Unfortunately this gets a bad rap. Sulphur is a naturally occurring by-product of fermentation. It also stabilizes the wine to prevent bacteria from altering the flavor. It’s only a problem when a ton of sulphur is pumped into the wine to cover up flaws. Again, this is found most commonly with mass-produced, cheap wine.
Clean Wine vs. Organic Wine
Clean wine is not the same as organic, either. Organic wine has an almost impossibly low requirement for sulphur levels, but you can look for wine that is “made with organic grapes.” Not all producers get this certification, and there are a lot of parallel terms like biodynamic that will also indicate happy “clean” winemaking (if you can call using sheep poop and compost clean!).
The best way to know what you’re drinking is to take a couple of minutes to do some research about the winemaker, or better yet find a wine buyer that shares your ethos. If Cameron Diaz is your preferred wine expert, by all means, enjoy your Avaline.