For more wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more, sign up to receive our Good Taste newsletter in your inbox every Wednesday.
The high-profile launch of Avaline, the new wine brand from actor Cameron Diaz and entrepreneur Katherine Power, has brought the notion of “clean” wine to the masses. The power duo states that their new vegan-friendly, organic wines are “full of natural goodness and free from dozens of unwanted and undisclosed extras.”
It’s smart marketing that fits right into the modern ethos. But like the questionable wellness claims made by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop lifestyle brand, launching a portfolio of high-volume, commercially-made wines under the guise of being “clean” conveniently trades on misinformation to take advantage of a fundamental lack of consumer understanding.
A lack of transparency in commercial winemaking opens the door to this, of course. With no nutrition or ingredient labelling or any obligation to report what goes into every bottle, North American consumers cannot be as considerate about their wine purchases as they can be when shopping for food.
Without knowing for a fact how Brand X makes its crowd-pleasing pinot noir, critics like Diaz and Power can claim it employs any and all of the permitted chemical and other additives deemed safe by authorities, in which case, it may as well be identified as poison for some consumers.
As a result, Cameron Diaz has levelled sweeping generalizations suggesting all commercial wines are stuffed with sinister additives and strange preservatives that are bad for you on her Instagram page to 6.9 million followers, who watch as she and Power promote their own portfolio of healthy, nurturing and utterly wholesome fermented grape juice.
Even other organic wines aren’t spared in this social media takedown: Power explains in the Instagram video on Diaz’s profile: “Any organic wine I have ever tried, it just lacks flavour, and it just doesn’t taste good.” “Hit or miss,” Diaz replies to her knowledgeable co-winemaker. Until now. By contrast, one is safe to assume, Avaline White and Avaline Rosé are not only as pure as the driven snow, but taste magically delicious as well.
Despite provoking an unabashed emotional response, there’s no universal definition of “clean” wine. Most advocates base their criteria around grapes from small, sustainable farms that tend their grapes without pesticides, fertilizers or added sulfites.
Under such definitions, these new acolytes of “clean” wine might be surprised to learn that Avaline isn’t particularly unique. It’s a product made from grape juice fermented with cultured yeast strains that are supported by the additions of yeast nutrients. When fermentation is complete, the finished wine has been fined and filtered before the addition of sulphur as a preservative.
Many of those chemical additives, while considered natural and harmless, could also be considered unnecessary.
Countless family-owned and boutique wineries around the world aspire to produce wine with as little manipulation as possible. They don’t add yeast or nutrients to aid the rapid conversion of sugar to alcohol. They might not fine or filter their wines and avoid any additions of sulphur, knowing their wine doesn’t need to be transported across the world to a Whole Foods outlet in Santa Monica.
Avaline White is a mass-produced blended wine from the Penedès region of Spain that needs to be stable and offer a consistent flavour profile to shoppers at American retail stores nationwide based on industry standards. Concessions had to be made to make sure consumers aren’t buying a bottle of cloudy vinegar, but Diaz isn’t transparent on that front.
She understands there’s a market for products that promote health and wellbeing.
Diaz, who has written two health-related books, likes to make healthy choices when she shops and cares about what she ingests. She’s banking many others are like her. (I suspect even more than her 6.9 million followers on Instagram.)
But when it comes to wine or any form of alcohol, there’s a well-documented risk to our health with even moderate consumption. That’s ultimately the biggest myth surrounding “clean” wine.