An article published recently in the UK-based Guardian newspaper written by Felicity Carter, an Australian specialist wine writer, calls out the promotion of what are called “clean wines” following a publicity blitz surrounding a new project by Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz and a business buddy. The pair claim to have been astonished by discovering how many additives and processing aids are regularly used to make wine and have thus set out to save wine drinkers from all this poison by bringing “transparency to the wine industry”. Felicity Carter does a nice job exploring some of the many paradoxes of the wine business.
“Clean wine” seems to follow in the footsteps of clean food, clean eating, clean homes (thank you so much Marie Kondo) and quite possibly clean minds (you need an app to meditate these days). But the selling of “clean wine” is seen by some as a marketing scam. In the case of Avaline, we’re invited to make the connection between Cameron Diaz’s remarkably clean face and the wine. The marketing plays to widespread ignorance about how wine is actually made and Ms Carter points out that terms like “minimal intervention” and even “natural wine” can play to and fool the same audience. Like most things in life, it’s more complicated under the bonnet!
Fermenting grape juice will naturally turn to vinegar (vinaigre in French, or vin aigre, bitter wine) if not managed and controlled very carefully. Additives and intervention have permitted winemakers all over the world to make a product that’s stable enough to travel the world to market. It is possible to make wine without additives, you’ll just need to work even harder at good hygiene in the cellar, using tons of water to clean, in order to avoid any unwanted bacterial interference. If you want to make the most interesting wines, you’ll need to allow nature to go to work by allowing wild yeasts to carry out the fermentation, with consequent risk of various bacterial collateral as any natural wine drinker will know, unfortunately, of acetic acid bacteria attacking the wine, or volatile, or brett bacteria, or what’s known as mouse. Most winemakers use SO2 to help manage the risks, a very few have learned to carry out the process without use of SO2. There are indeed many additives that wouldn’t be necessary if the grapes were grown healthily in the first place, such as basics like sugar and acid that are regularly used. There are around 80 authorised additives (incuding in organic wine). In addition to additives, there are all sorts of interventions, such as de-stemming, or racking, or blocking malolactic fermentation, or filtration, interventions which can be brutual and quite change the natural character of the wine or virtually imperceptible.
If “clean wine” means anything, perhaps it really means sterile, meaning very carefully controlled mass-market homogeneity, where everything tastes the same, and we end up back where we started when we wanted to get away from it all. As we see it, it’s all good to bring to attention how wine is really made and tastes.