If they come across producers using the term ‘Clean Wine,’ says the TTB, “consumers should not interpret the term as meaning that the beverage is organic or has met other production standards set by TTB.“
The TTB goes on to note that sometimes producers use the word “clean” to describe a quality of taste, such as a finish that is “clean and crisp.” But that’s not what they’re worried about.
We would consider those claims to be misleading health-related statements
TTB on the use of the term ‘clean wine.’
The TTB goes on to say, “In other cases, the term is used together with other language to create the misleading impression that consumption of the alcohol beverage will have health benefits, or that the health risks otherwise associated with alcohol consumption will be mitigated. For example, ‘X malt beverage is clean and healthy’ or ‘Y vodka’s clean production methods mean no headaches for you.’”
About those kinds of statements, and the implications of the categorical label of ‘Clean Wine,’ the TTB is unequivocal: “We would consider those claims to be misleading health-related statements.”
This is obviously not a legal ruling, nor is it a commitment to specific enforcement, but the TTB is not mincing words here, and I think sending a pretty clear message.
In short, Cameron Diaz and crew, as well as a lot of other trend-following wine marketers are going to have to stop using the term, or get a lot more creative about how they use it, for fear of facing actual penalties from the TTB.
I’m not quite sure how stiff a penalty the TTB would levy in the course of such enforcement, but their fines have been known to run as high as several hundred thousand dollars or even $1 million in a couple of cases.
I’m sure Cameron Diaz has pretty good lawyers. Let’s see how long it takes for the Avaline website to change, shall we?
Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.
Fair warning: this article is going to be a bit of industry navel-gazing that likely holds little interest for consumers. Apologies in advance for anyone who showed up here looking for wine recommendations, which you can escape to right here.
There. Now that it’s just us industry folks, let’s talk about how the wine industry routinely breaks the law when it comes to e-mail, and how it’s time to clean up that act.
Having spent more than 20 years in the marketing and tech industry, I’ve done more than my share of e-mail campaign analysis, design, and implementation in the context of helping companies improve their overall customer experience.
From the basic principles of good customer experience, to the actual laws surrounding e-mail marketing, the wine industry as a whole gets a failing grade.
Like you, I’m also a consumer of e-mail, although in my case (across personal, Vinography, and design consulting inboxes) I get more e-mail than most. I haven’t kept strict count lately, but I’d say somewhere between 300 and 500 per day is probably a reasonable average.
More than a few of those are from the wine industry, and from the basic principles of good customer experience to the actual laws surrounding e-mail marketing, the wine industry as a whole gets a failing grade.
The Top 5 Email Marketing Mistakes
Here are the most common mistakes that I see wineries (and wine retailers) making every day.
1. Lacking Affirmative Consent
If I had a nickel for every time I had handed a Vinography business card to a wine industry person and then found myself on their marketing e-mail list the next week, I could retire tomorrow.
Simply finding out (or receiving) someone’s contact information does not mean that you can add them to your mailing list. According to law, the only times you can send promotional or marketing e-mails to someone (which includes offers of wine for sale) are as follows:
You have asked them if they’d like to sign up for your e-mails, and they have said yes by checking a box or by typing their e-mail into a form field on your web site
They have sent you an e-mail or otherwise proactively requested (by phone, in person at an event, or otherwise) that you add them to your mailing list
Most notably, and most problematic for the wine industry, is the fact that the above does NOT include someone having purchased wine from you, or in the case of us journalists, having been sent a wine sample by you.
Let me say that again just so it is 100% clear: the fact that a consumer has placed an order on your web site or has purchased wine in your tasting room does not legally provide you with what is known as “affirmative consent” to add them to your mailing list for promotional e-mails.
An online or in-person order only provides you with permission to e-mail that customer regarding that specific transaction, and by law, those e-mails must contain little or no promotional or marketing content.
The wine industry suffers in this domain from its lack of understanding and/or adoption of modern marketing and e-commerce technology platforms.
Here’s a textbook example. Five weeks ago, a small winery sent me an e-mail asking if they could send me samples. I said yes, and provided them with my mailing address. Two weeks ago, I began to get e-mails from their e-commerce system about “my order,” which made it clear that they had initiated a sample shipment to me through their e-commerce system.
That’s fine, as far as it goes. I wasn’t particularly interested in being notified when the samples had shipped or what the tracking number was, but hey, I can ignore those e-mails. The samples arrived, and all was good. But this morning, I received an e-mail thanking me for “coming by our winery the other day,” providing me with tasting notes on the wines I had “selected during my visit,” and providing me with controls to re-order any of the wines I really liked. I’d bet you $100 that I’ll get an e-mail from them when their new vintage is available for sale.
By entering me into their e-commerce system as a customer, I have been automatically subscribed to their mailing list. They may not even be aware that this has happened.
This poor little winery isn’t alone in having a technology system that has no way of differentiating between their best and most loyal customers and a random person to whom they have shipped a bottle, nor in lacking the operational processes required to prevent them from breaking federal e-mail marketing regulations.
2. Lack of Unsubscribe Controls
By law, if you are sending promotional or marketing e-mails to individuals (i.e. anything that isn’t solely related to a specific order or transaction – see affirmative consent above) you must provide them the ability to unsubscribe from further communications within the e-mail itself, usually in the form of a link where they can remove themselves from your database.
The worst offenders? European wineries, and solely from my personal experience, those from Italy. This despite the (arguably) stricter provisions of the EUs GDPR regulations.
But American wineries, especially smaller operations, still regularly fail to provide unsubscribe functionality. This is an easy thing to fix.
3. Ignoring Negative Consent
Retailers are especially bad at this one, but wineries suffer from it as well.
I order wine online with regularity. I have never, ever, ever ticked the box during the checkout process labeled “send me updates and promotions” (and I always deselect it on those web sites that have it selected by default), yet more than 75% of the time, sometimes within hours, I find myself receiving promotional e-mails from those same retailers telling me about new wine offers.
The worst form of this, of course, is when the consumer requests to unsubscribe, and despite there being very clear controls to do so, they remain on the mailing list.
You must honor opt-outs and unsubscribe requests promptly and effectively. And you must test your websites and e-mail providers to ensure that they function the way they say they do, and that you think they should.
4. Ignoring Mobile Users
Even more shocking than the fact that people still don’t have their heads around how to let customers unsubscribe is the number of e-mails I get that look positively awful as I am reading them on my mobile phone (like 98% of the rest of the busy people in this world).
You must create your e-mails in a way that allows them to be read on a mobile phone. Full stop. Failure to do so is the marketing equivalent of making 3/4 of your bottles of wine impossible for your customers to open without having to go to Home Depot to buy a special tool that may or may not be in stock when they arrive.
5. Lacking An E-mail Strategy
The other day, in the service of an article I am writing for Jancis Robinson, I did something I rarely do: I solicited samples from a winery. I’m sure it will shock you to find out that after doing so, I have now started to receive wine offers from this winery. Sigh. I’m sure it will also come as a huge surprise that there is no link at the bottom of these emails to unsubscribe. Another sigh.
But the real point of this little anecdote is not to complain about being added to yet another dysfunctional marketing list. It’s that in the past 3 weeks I have now received, I kid you not, 14 separate e-mails from this winery, ranging from Thanksgiving greetings to new library releases, to holiday sales, to “almost sold out” holiday sale items, etc. etc.
I get it. Times are tough, and everyone has a lot of wine to sell, some of which needs to be sold to put food on the table, pay for salaries and healthcare, and keep the lights on.
Customer expectations are different, of course, for retailers and wineries. Customers who deliberately sign up for retailer mailing lists may want and expect a much higher frequency of offers.
My own experience as a recipient of more winery e-mail marketing than I could ever desire (or asked for) shows that wineries tend to fall into two camps. Those who literally only send out two or three e-mails per year when they have a wine release to sell, and those who unfortunately resemble the producer I’m shaming without naming in the anecdote above.
Wineries, especially the small ones, are notoriously starved for time and resources when it comes to marketing efforts, but the investment in time (and outside help, if needed) to develop a true strategy of what kind of things you’re sending, to which customers, and when pays off in higher customer engagement, lower unsubscribe rates, and ultimately higher sales.
Not to mention a better brand impression.
As much as I like some of the wine samples that this winery sent me at my request (and my tasting notes and scores will reflect that) I feel like I stepped up to the punchbowl at a party to get a drink and after saying hi to the person standing next to it, they’ve not stopped talking to me for 20 minutes and show no signs of letting me mingle with the other guests.
Again, I understand everyone’s trying to move inventory, but in this case, I’m backing away slowly and hoping to catch the eye of someone I know across the room….
So How Big a Deal Is All This?
Violations of federal e-mail regulations along the lines of those outlined above can result in fines (up to $16,000 per email sent in violation of the law) plus jail time of 1-3 years if someone decided to bring a suit.
But, we might ask ourselves, how likely is it that someone is going to bring a suit against some little winery because they added them to a mailing list they didn’t want to be on, or because they don’t put unsubscribe links at the bottom of their e-mails?
Compared to web site accessibility, fixing problems with e-mail ethics is actually pretty straightforward and inexpensive. And one can argue that it can have a much bigger impact on sales and customer retention.
It’s time to make sure your marketing e-mails aren’t hurting your business. Times are challenging enough as they are.
The nicely designed, highly commercial bottles of Avaline, conveniently available on wine.com and in 43 states at the time of launch may well be made from certified organic grapes (a great thing) and not use any animal byproducts (something that vegans find important) but describing them as “clean wines” would be entirely laughable if it weren’t such brilliant marketing.
I see two problems with the claim that these are “clean wines.”
Problem #1. Avaline wines are actually just commercially produced organic wines that have several more additives than many small-production winemakers would consider using.
The ingredients for Avaline (which Diaz and Power didn’t seem to feel compelled to put on their labels, despite their seeming focus on transparency) include: sulfites, bentonite clay, pea protein, Cream of Tartar, yeast and yeast nutrients.
None of these items is dangerous, strange, harmful, or, as their web site takes pains to point out, unnatural. Most of them are quite common in the world of commercial winemaking and I’m perfectly content to drink wines made with them any day of the week.
But most of them are unnecessary.
Fining and filtration (done with the bentonite and pea protein) aren’t necessary, and can strip wine of some of its character. There’s nothing wrong at all with the processes or the materials used to accomplish them. Unless you’re trying to make a wine with as little manipulation and as few additives as possible, which it sort of sounded like Diaz and Power were trying to do.
Yeast and their nutrients are also not required to make great wine. Many conscientious winemakers, from large established brands to tiny artisans, choose indigenous or spontaneous fermentation in the service of making their wines as pure an expression of the place they came from as possible. Interestingly, the Avaline web site doesn’t really make a single mention of where the wine comes from. If you squint at the label image, you can see that it says “Made in Spain.” Perhaps that will suffice for most of their customers.
Only the most commercial winemakers quake in fear over the dreaded tartrate crystals. Sometimes referred to as “wine diamonds,” crystals of tartrate can precipitate out of a wine and show up in the bottom of a bottle, much to the alarm of the everyday wine consumer. They don’t indicate anything wrong with the wine and they’re entirely harmless, but they tend to freak out the uninformed wine drinker, so it’s not a surprise that Diaz and Power would opt to use Cream of Tartar to prevent their wines from having these precipitates. It’s worth pointing out, however, that not only is this product an unnecessary additive, it certainly isn’t gathered by little old ladies in the Spanish countryside. It’s a (naturally occurring) chemical called Potassium bitartrate, and it is almost certainly synthesized in a lab before being packaged up and shipped to winemakers all over the world.
Problem #2. Avaline’s marketing perpetuates the same kind of mis-information spewed by the most dogmatic of natural winemakers, serving to mislead and scare unsuspecting wine consumers.
Thank heavens Diaz and Power didn’t go on about arsenic in wine, but they’re still shoveling from the same steaming pile as those who claim that commercial wines are akin to industrial poison.
The idea that people need “clean wines” to avoid putting nasty things in their bodies is super catchy, and will likely be quite successful, but it’s also utterly preposterous. Pick any wine made in California, Washington, Oregon, or New York at quantities of less than 10,000 cases, and I guarantee you that it has less weird stuff in it than half the things your average “health conscious” individual puts in their mouth all day long.
And I’m not even talking about soda pop, snack chips, or candy bars. The average kitchen pantry of most restaurants (yes, even the hip, fancy ones) has commercially produced food items in it that contain all manner of additives that are far more “suspect” concerning our health than the things found in decent quality wine.
Some people seem to have no issue taking a swig of Vitamin Water and then going on and on about “frankenwines” and the industrial wine complex and all its evils. That’s pure ignorance and hypocrisy.
Even vegans, whose life choices I don’t share, have very little to complain about when it comes to wine. If they object to the use of animal products in any way, shape or form, then I understand their need to seek out wines that haven’t used casein (a milk product), isinglass (sturgeon bladder), or albumen (egg whites) for fining, but it’s important to know that in all of these cases, these products do not remain in the wine. Drinking a wine that has been fined with an egg white does not involve ingesting egg.
It’s definitely worth noting that Diaz and Power have made the decision to utilize organic grapes for their wines, which is a laudable choice. Leaving all other complaints about their marketing aside, this move certainly distinguishes their efforts in a positive way and means that their wines, like all organic and biodynamic wines, are free from potential herbicide and pesticide residues.
Avaline isn’t as bad as a jade yoni egg, but it is equally misleading
Hats off to Diaz and Power for parlaying their personal brands into a product that will no doubt be a commercial success. This is America, and people get to start businesses offering all manner of useless, unnecessary, or silly things to consumers. And if they’re smart and have clearly understood a market need, or they’ve created a compelling brand narrative, they end up making boatloads of money, regardless of how morally, ethically, or philosophically “good” their product actually is.
But those of us in the wine industry, and those of you who enjoy wine should know that the term “clean wine” isn’t worth the pixels used to print it on your smartphone. We should also know that Avaline Wines aren’t any better for you than any other wine produced from organically grown grapes made by a small or medium sized winery in this country or in any other.
Are they better for you than than Barefoot? Almost certainly. And maybe that’s all that Diaz and Power are counting on.
Imagine a story that goes something like this: a young man begins his career and struggles to make it as a spirits importer, selling his favourite bottles out of the trunk of his car. After a long uphill battle through minor and major successes in the spirits business, he decides to get into wine, and within a year or two he has a runaway success – a wine that makes him half a billion dollars and gives him the means to start another wine project that is even more successful, launching him into the ranks of the country’s wealthiest individuals.
Anyone with even the remotest familiarity with the wine industry will know how preposterous such a story would be. Far more fortunes have been lost than have been made so quickly in the world of wine.
Intriguingly, however, something very like this story (substituting wine for spirits) not only proves significantly more probable, it describes the actual arc of one man’s career and an interesting link between one of today’s hottest beverage alcohol trends and the world of wine.
But first, a little history.
I consider myself a member of the Zima Generation. American teenagers committed to illicit drinking are famously willing to consume any available booze, but when I was 17, given a choice other than beer, my high school classmates chose the hottest alcohol sensation of the 1990s: Zima Clearmalt.
Introduced in 1993 by the Coors Brewing Company, the clear, sparkling malt beverage capitalised on the trend at the time for colourless beverages that also prompted the launch of the spectacularly unsuccessful Crystal Pepsi and Tab Clear.
Unlike those famous soft-drink flame-outs, Zima was a fabulous success, at least for a short while. When sales peaked in 1995, more than half of America and more than 70% of all alcohol drinkers had tried the stuff, resulting in annual sales of more than 396 million bottles.
Just like flared jeans, clear, fizzy alcohol is back once again in America, this time in the form of a category called hard seltzer. If you’re over 30, and especially if you live outside the US, you can be forgiven for not knowing what hard seltzer is, but it has clearly caught the imagination of America, where for certain periods last summer it outsold Budweiser.
This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her web site. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.