Pix Wasn’t the Only Wine Tech Failure I’ve Seen Up-Close

If you’re lucky, you’ve been blissfully unaware of the hullabaloo (mostly on Twitter) surrounding my recent column for Jancis Robinson about the wine start-up Pix, and its failure to secure funding.

I’ve come in for all sorts of criticism about the article, ranging from the inane (‘shame on you for linking to a paywalled article’) to the defensive (‘you’ve mischaracterized how Wine Searcher works’) to the downright accusatory (‘you’re just trying to make the CEO of this start-up look better.’)

A number of people have specifically suggested that my implication that Pix’s failure says something negative about the wine industry is some combination of sour grapes and the deflection of blame for the company’s failure away from those who are responsible, namely the executives of the company.

Let’s be clear, when a start-up fails to get funding, it’s 100% the fault of the executive team. Their jobs, in addition to everything they do on a daily basis to keep the business running, is to sell the idea behind the business to investors. When investors don’t invest, it means the story wasn’t compelling enough.

But that doesn’t mean Pix’s failure to fund doesn’t also say something about the wine industry.

You see, Pix is not the first innovative wine tech start-up I’ve seen fail to fund. It’s the second.

Right Idea, Right Time

The first wine tech startup I saw fail was an incredibly innovative wine e-commerce business that a major wine industry player hired my design agency to help them bring to life.

Specifically, my agency was hired to help name and brand the new company. Then we conducted consumer and trade research that drove our design of a remarkable website and mobile experience providing a set of incredibly flexible and helpful tools for those who shop for fine wine with regularity.

We showed the designs to wineries and they said the site would fundamentally change the game for them and their customers.

We showed the designs to wine lovers who purchased wines weekly from both retailers and wineries, and many said some version of ‘this is the kind of thing I’ve needed for a long time.’

At that point our client went to the very same investors and board of directors who had pushed them to innovate in the first place, requesting the money to launch the business in full.

The board said no. They ‘just weren’t sure it was the right time.’

What these industry executives and venture capitalists ultimately failed to fund would have been one of the largest and most unique wine e-commerce sites on the internet.

It would have launched just in time to support the pandemic-fueled online wine shopping frenzy. You know, when we were all in lockdown in April of 2020 and online wine sales jumped 300-500% for some online retailers almost overnight?

Had it been built, I believe this website would have changed the fortunes of that particular company forever in addition to fundamentally setting a new standard for wine e-commerce.

You’ll have to take my word for that, however. But that’s not really the point.

When Will the Wine Industry Wake-up Come?

Just as with Pix, here we had an excellent idea, with a well-defended and interrogated business case and a great user experience that both the industry and consumers said would be great.

But the industry people with the money decided not to invest.

Hence my claim that the industry lacks the imagination and inclination to participate in the kinds of digital transformations that most other industries have found essential over the past few decades.

Make no mistake, it’s essential for the wine industry too. The question is whether they’ll get to it before they’ve lost the game, and all their digitally-native customers are entrenched customers of other types of beverage alcohol.

Image at top of cracked wine glass created with the AI software MidJourney.

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Pix—The Inside Story

American wine isn’t keeping up with the digital technology revolution, and it hasn’t been for a long while. I’m not talking about the surprising resistance of some wineries to invest the time and energy required to engage customers on social media. I’m talking about a lack of the deep-seated digital transformations that have occupied most other industries for the last decade.

The wine industry has a long history of eschewing what it calls ‘ecosphere’ investments (investments that contribute to the overall industry ecosystem) in favour of either proprietary systems or products. Put simply, the largest wine companies are more than happy to spend a bunch of money on software to help themselves operate more efficiently, or to spend a couple of million acquiring a new brand for their portfolio, but seem quite reluctant to invest in companies that benefit the broader industry.

Roughly two years ago, wine-technology evangelist and thought leader Paul Mabray launched a start-up named Pix, aimed at providing consumers easier ways of buying wine while giving the wine industry better tools for selling it. On 16 August, Pix laid off most of its staff and began searching for buyers, after some of the largest players in the wine industry opted not to participate in the company’s latest round of fundraising. Even though many of these companies were already enthusiastically paying for the services that Pix offered.

Explaining Pix

For the last 18 months or so, I served on Pix’s Board of Advisors. As some readers know, in addition to writing about wine, I have also had a long career as a consultant in technology marketing, design and digital strategy. As an advisor, I was given stock options in exchange for providing advice and perspective to Mabray and the rest of the executive leadership team. 

My involvement since the early days of the company gave me an intimate understanding of what Pix was getting right, and what challenges it faced. For all of those challenges, the business Pix was building proved not only financially sound, but also potentially game-changing for the wine industry.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her website. 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.

Image of a wine city of the future created by MidJourney.

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Inflation Looms for CA Wine

In last month’s column, I covered the rise in California’s grape prices in the wake of disastrous fires and two light vintages, but that was only half of the story. Now it’s time to examine inflation’s effects on the American wine industry.

Somewhat strangely, while most Americans see clear evidence of inflationary effects everywhere in daily life, the one place that prices haven’t (yet) gone up is the local wine store. 

‘Wine prices have not moved anywhere near the percentage of change of other food products’, says Jon Moramarco, a partner at Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates and the editor of that firm’s monthly and annual reports on the California wine industry. 

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis publishes an annual Consumer Price Index report, which breaks down trends in pricing across many different categories of consumer goods. While prices for products such as milk and bread rose an average of 6.1% in 2021, wine prices actually dropped by 1.1%. In comparison, prices for beer rose by 2.1% and spirits by 3.1%. 

‘This is primarily driven by a highly fragmented, highly competitive marketplace, where it has been, and still is, difficult to raise prices’, says Moramarco. ‘If you go back and look at wine since the Great Recession, retailers have been very reluctant to accept price increases [from producers].’ In fact, wine prices have remained immune from inflation for several decades.

Why is this? Moramarco estimates that at any given time there are more than 300,000 individual wines available for sale in the US. With that level of choice, he says, it’s a simple matter for a retailer to choose an alternate wine, rather than lose margin on a wine or pass along a price increase to a customer.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her website. 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.

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Volatile Times for CA Wine

In late summer of 2020, Steve Sangiacomo was excited. The vintage was shaping up to be an exceptional one. But then on 16 August, in the midst of a summer heatwave, a barrage of dry lightning exceeding hundreds of strikes per hour spread throughout the state, and within 36 hours 585 wildfires were burning, three of which quickly grew to hundreds of thousands of acres while funnelling smoke directly into Napa and Sonoma counties.

‘Our Chardonnay ended up being fine’, says Sangiacomo, ‘but we were only able to harvest about 10% of our Pinot Noir. We lost the other 90%.’ The Sangiacomos, one of Sonoma’s largest independent growers, ended up with only around 30% of their normal harvest tonnage. 

His family was not alone.

‘In October of 2020, we did a comprehensive survey of our local grape growers to better understand the impact of the wildfires on the 2020 crop’, says Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers. ‘We were also able to estimate that we were only going to harvest about 10% of our county-wide Pinot Noir crop as grape growers and wineries were not going to risk producing a Sonoma County wine that was not up to our world-class wine standards.’

According to Kruse, the fires more than halved the value of Sonoma County’s harvest, resulting in losses of over $300 million.

Towards the end of August 2020 in Santa Barbara, away from almost all the smoke, Nicholas Miller’s phone began ringing off the hook. Miller’s family owns and farms the more than 900 acres (364 ha) at Bien Nacido Vineyards, one of the most prominent and well-respected sources of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah in California.

‘It seems like everyone was calling to see if there were grapes available’, recalls Miller.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her website. 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.

Image of Moscato harvest in Lodi by George Rose.

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Sean Thackrey Has Left The Cellar

Known for ironically wearing a vest emblazoned with the phrase ‘famous winemaker’, the iconoclastic California winemaker Sean Thackrey passed away on 30 May following what a friend referred to as a decade-long battle with cancer.

The 80-year-old Thackrey was indeed famous in the world of California wine, but was as revered for his polymath intellect, poetic tendencies, and somewhat hermit-like existence as he was for his difficult-to-procure idiosyncratic wines.

The son of a journalist and a Hollywood script supervisor, Thackrey grew up in southern California during the late 1950s and went on to have the kind of rambling education that you might expect of a budding hippie intellectual. Spending time first at Reed College in Oregon, and then later at the University of Vienna, Thackrey was deeply interested in art and art history, yet never completed a course of study at either institution. He eventually made his way to northern California where he settled in the tiny coastal community of Bolinas, making ends meet by running a San Francisco art gallery and working as a book editor.

After planting some wine grapes in his yard primarily for aesthetic purposes, in 1979 Thackrey decided to try his hand at winemaking, relying entirely on intuition and his personal research into ancient winemaking texts. Perhaps most importantly over the course of his life, Thackrey assembled a world-class library of these books and documents (sold last month for $2 million by a New York bookseller), many of which he personally translated and transcribed, publishing them on his website for the pleasure and edification of an audience that he suggested might number only a few dozens.

Continue reading this article (FREE) on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. 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.

Image of Thackrey courtesy of photographer Slav Zatoka.

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I’ll Drink to That: Winemaker Patrick Campbell

There’s a new episode of I’ll Drink to That! available. Episode 490 features a conversation with Patrick Campbell, the former owner and winemaker of Laurel Glen Vineyard on California’s Sonoma Mountain. Patrick is the owner of Tierra Divina Vineyards, a grouping of wine brands sourced from grapes grown in Argentina and California. This episode also features shorter appearances from Mike Chelini (formerly of Stony Hill Vineyard), Ray Coursen (formerly of Elyse Winery), Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon Vineyard), Joel Peterson (formerly of Ravenswood Winery), and David Rafanelli (A. Rafanelli Winery). Erin Scala provides a background to the pivotal 2005 United States Supreme Court ruling of Granholm v. Heald in this episode as well.


Patrick Campbell has multiple lifetimes worth of interesting stories to tell, and luckily this interview is stuffed with several of them. The early move from Harvard Yard to a Zen Buddhist Community in Sonoma. The unlikely purchase of an iconic vineyard. The pruning lessons in a rain deluge. The market machinations, perils, and rewards of handshake grape contracts. The peculiarities of making wine by figuring it out on your own, year after year, without university training or a family background in wine. Jetting off to Chile and then taking an epic car ride over the Andes Mountains to Argentina, stumbling into a wine culture of another era. And then back to the United States, with a pivotal and consequential case before the Supreme Court. This episode is all over the globe, and a special trip of its own.

Other ways to listen:

I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @leviopenswine

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How Flashy is American Wine?

A slowly growing number of American winemakers are relying on the winemaking equivalent of a secret weapon. It doesn’t feature prominently in most winery tours as it doesn’t exactly fit in with the romance of oak barrels and sweeping vineyard vistas. In fact, it usually requires its own building with a natural gas line, plumbing and, occasionally, a separate insurance policy. But from dealing with smoke taint, to handling some adverse effects of climate volatility, to shaping the flavours and textures of high-scoring wines, a once-esoteric European winemaking technology called flash détente (as it was named by the French) increasingly has a role as an indispensable tool for some winemakers.

A combination of thermovinification and flash evaporation, flash détente involves the rapid heating of grape must or juice to between 175 and 190 °F (79–88 °C) and then moving it into a vacuum chamber. When the hot must enters a vacuum, the cellular structures of the grape skins and pulp burst open, in the same way they might if they were brought to the boil. But because this happens in a vacuum, the instantaneous evaporation of water cools everything down, allowing the extraction of colour and flavour compounds that you could ordinarily get only by cooking the fruit, which would result in much less desirable flavours.

The evaporation and capture of water from this process produces three critical outcomes that matter to winemakers: a concentration of the processed must or juice (usually the equivalent of around 2 Brix in sugar accumulation), the removal of a wide array of unwanted volatile compounds (including pyrazines, various aerosols and some elements of smoke taint, all of which have conveniently low boiling points and end up in the captured steam), and the effective pasteurisation or denaturing of moulds, enzymes or other sources of grape spoilage.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. 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.

Image courtesy of Barry Gnekow.

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PURE Lies: Winemaker Adam Lee Puts a ‘Clean Wine’ to the Test

Today I’m publishing an article written by winemaker Adam Lee, founder of Siduri Wines and owner of the Clarice Wine Company, who shares my annoyance at the misleading, denigration marketing of most so-called clean wine companies.

In some recent columns here, Alder has very appropriately weighed in on the issues associated with the various claims put forth by several different wineries, such as Dry Farm Wines.

Recently the TTB has started to take notice of these claims as well, issuing guidelines for wineries who attempt to advertise their wines as “clean wines.”

While the TTB is putting producers on notice regarding these claims and advertisements, it seems obvious to me that this isn’t enough. I approached Alder with this column a couple of months ago but never got around to finishing it. Now, with the TTB sitting up and taking notice, I finally found the inspiration and Alder has been kind enough to allow me to publish it on Vinography.

If you are remotely connected to wine online, you will see their advertisements all over Facebook and Instagram…. wine brands claiming to offer wines with “zero sugar” and which are “keto-friendly”. Several wineries claim that their wines are different from the world of supposedly mass-produced wines which, according to them, contain loads of residual sugar and various other additives.

As both a commercial winemaker and an interested consumer, I decided to examine one such winery and see what I could determine about their claims. 

Please forgive a brief amount of science, but I do think it is important to have some basic knowledge before going forward. For winemaking purposes, sugars fall into two categories, “fermentable” and “non-fermentable” sugars. During fermentation, yeast converts “fermentable” sugars into alcohol. Non-fermentable sugars remain behind.

What PURE the Winery Claims

PURE the Winery is one of the more prominent wineries that advertise their “zero sugar” wine on various social media sites. They claim to be “zero sugar” right on the front page of their website, and in much of their advertising (sometimes they seem to hedge their bets a little, by claiming it is “zero sugar per serving”). They also tie this in with claims the wines are, therefore, “keto-friendly”.

According to them, “A unique and natural fermentation technique ensures that all the sugars from the grapes are completely converted into alcohol.” They go on to explain why and how they make these wines:

“For this reason, we soon discovered that adults liked to enjoy a good wine, but at the same time often feel guilty consuming it. This is due to the number of calories and carbohydrates usually present in wine. To a larger extent, the caloric load is given by the non-fermented sugars, which have not been converted into alcohol during its fermentation. We soon discovered that these sugars are not necessary to give a good flavor to the wine. Thus, we started our journey create and to offer a wine with zero sugar. And we did it! By combining unique and traditional fermentation techniques, we found a way to naturally convert all sugars into alcohol. We got a wine without sugar and without carbohydrates and up to 50% fewer calories. With 10.5% alcohol and a fantastic uncomplicated taste.”

That’s not all, however. On the FAQ page of their website they explain what they do in the vineyard to make this possible:

“The grapes used to make PURE the Winery wines are carefully selected and picked at the right time. A grape contains sugars that can ferment into alcohol and sugars that cannot ferment into alcohol. The longer a grape ripens, the more of the second sugar, which cannot ferment into alcohol, is formed in the grape. When our grapes are picked, the sugars that can ferment to alcohol are at their peak and the sugars that cannot ferment to alcohol are not yet present in the grape. Our experienced winemakers combine unique and traditional fermentation techniques to convert all sugars into alcohol in a completely natural way.”

They also claim to be lower in alcohol, calories, and sulfites than other wines: “But because there is no sugar in our wines, the sulfite content is relatively low compared to other wines.”

In its Facebook advertisements, PURE the Winery repeats its claims. They claim that “after the fermentation, there is no sugar left in our wines, not even residual sugars like in other wines.”  They once again mention that “we developed a yeast that ferments all the sugars into alcohol and leaves no residual sugars like other wines.” And they go one step further addressing anyone who happens to be on a Keto diet:

What the Authorities Require

The TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – the organization that governs winery labeling and advertising) has issued guidance on when a winery can use “zero sugar” claims: 

“If a serving of your alcohol beverage contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar, you may include a claim such as “Zero Sugar,” “No Sugar,” or “Sugar Free” on your label or in your advertisement. The label or advertisement must also include a statement of average analysis or a Serving Facts statement.”

https://www.ttb.gov/images/newsletters/archives/2021/ttb-newsletter07092021.html

So, per the TTB, a wine doesn’t actually have to have zero sugar to be able to claim zero sugar – it just has to be low in sugar – below 0.5 grams per glass. With 5 glasses in a bottle that means that the wine needs to have less than 2.5 grams of sugar in a standard bottle and less than 3.38 grams of sugar in a liter. As a winemaker of what would be considered more traditional dry wines, we all believe that wines aren’t dry until they are below 2 grams per liter (and most wines are much lower than that). Thus, there’s every likelihood that a wine you pick up off the shelf is just as dry, if not drier, than a PURE the Winery offering. However, knowing that there are unfermentable sugars in wine leads us not to label the wines as zero sugar as that wouldn’t be honest. 

Despite the TTB’s latitude in this area, the Agency did, back in 2004, promise to look at advertisements regarding caloric content and sugars in wine and make judgments as to their veracity, especially when it comes to health-related claims. Basically, they say that you can’t mislead consumers.

What Did I Discover about PURE the Winery?

I ordered a selection of Pure the Winery wines through their website. The wines were the PURE Sparking White Wine, PURE Sparkling Rosé Wine, the PURE White Wine, and the PURE Red Wine. I took the bottles and delivered them, unopened, directly to ETS Laboratories. ETS is an accredited lab, independently owned and operated since 1978. 

Here were the results for these “zero sugar” wines:

PURE Sparkling White Wine:     glucose + fructose: 0.5 grams per liter
                                                           Total sugar: 1.5 grams per liter

PURE Sparkling Rosé Wine:        glucose + fructose: 0.4 grams per liter
                                                           Total sugar: 1.4 grams per liter

PURE White Wine:                        glucose + fructose: 0.3 grams per liter
                                                           Total sugar: 1.3 grams per liter

PURE Red Wine:                           glucose + fructose: 0.4 grams per liter
                                                           Total sugar: 2.5 grams per liter

From these numbers, it is obvious that the wines do not truly have “zero sugar.” These numbers certainly are below the TTB requirement for advertising a wine as “zero sugar” but they also are not significantly different from most of the wines I’ve made over the past 27 years.

What is also clear is that the claim PURE the Winery somehow developed “a yeast that ferments all the sugars into alcohol” and didn’t pick at a time when unfermentable sugars were not yet present in the grapes is categorically false. Basically, while the label is technically compliant, the wine’s advertising is clearly not true and is misleading.

One other notable falsity about the wines that could be gleaned from the ETS report. First, the reported low alcohol levels are truly that low. Second, PURE’s claim that the wines are lower in sulfite isn’t accurate. The Sparkling White, Sparkling Rosé, and the White Wine all came in between 98 and 111ppm Total Sulfur Dioxide. From my 27 years of winemaking, I’d say that not only are those numbers not “low” but they are actually rather high. Only the Pure Red Wine could be considered “low” at 29ppm Total Sulfur Dioxide. 

Last, the “keto-friendly” claims bear some consideration too. While my understanding is that sugar is part of a keto diet (up to 50 grams per day I’m told), it’s pretty misleading to throw the “zero sugar” claim around and direct it to keto diets—it basically is telling people living a keto lifestyle that there are “zero” sugars to attribute to this product, which is clearly not the case.

What Conclusions Can We Draw From All This?

It seems clear that there are target consumers for wines being sold as “zero sugar,” “low calories,” and “low sulfites.” PURE the Winery is just one such company making these claims online. The TTB allows the wines to be labeled “zero sugar” even when they have some sugar in them – and this loophole has led to an explosion of wineries making this claim and legally labeling their wines thusly.

However, both on their website and in their advertisements, PURE the Winery takes their claims further and makes claims that clearly are not true, based on independent lab results. They seem to be counting on a combination of consumer desire and lack of knowledge, along with no real TTB enforcement, to sell their wines. And they seem untroubled by making patently false claims, “like we pick before the nonfermentable sugars develop” and “we have a special yeast that converts everything”. They also seem untroubled by hiding behind technical compliance and telling people with specific dietary needs (keto) that there are zero sugars in their wines when the presence of any sugar is something of material importance to those consumers. 

This type of misleading advertising does a disservice to consumers and to other wineries. We can only hope that the TTB follows through on its promise to crack down on misleading advertising in the wine business. 

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Napa – Small Scale, Big Change

For more than 80 years, the journey up Highway 29 into Napa Valley has begun with the same view. To this day, as motorists make the turn off of Highway 12 from Sonoma or sweep across the Napa River and head north into the valley, the first sights they encounter are a set of green fields dotted with cows grazing placidly in front of an old white barn.

This pastoral scene, in the Carneros section of Napa Valley, provides an exceedingly rare glimpse into an agrarian past that few in modern-day Napa remember. Multi-generational family farms, especially those that grow anything but grapes, are all but extinct in Napa. But thanks to a measure passed by the Napa Board of Supervisors on 22 March, the few remaining such farms may have a new lease on life.

Those picturesque pastures at the entrance to Napa Valley (pictured above) have been in Ailene Tarap’s family for four generations, ever since her great-grandparents bought the property in 1903. The Stewart Ranch, as it is called, was one of Napa’s original local dairies, but now Ailene and her husband Paul raise a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle for meat, even as they struggle to keep the property afloat so they may pass it along to their children.

‘Over the years we’ve been working to figure out how to avoid having the next generation forced to sell the ranch and develop it, but ultimately the cows are not going to make it’, says Tarap.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. 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.

Image of the Stewart Ranch courtesy of Paul and Aileen Tarap.

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The TTB Weighs in on ‘Clean Wine’

Call it an early Easter basket surprise for those of us who aren’t fans of denigration marketing. In its newsletter today, the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), who are responsible for the regulation of alcohol commerce in America, just gave a big thumbs down to those wineries who have been marketing their wares under the banner of ‘Clean Wine.’

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?

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