If there was one change that I most noticed in wine sales in Australia last year, it was the proliferation of “cleanskins”. These wines will usually only have the most basic of labels, with varietal, regions and year, but no producers name or tasting notes.

Read on, to find out more about this new method of wine distribution and marketing.

These wines tend to retail in the $5 – $15 market and will often match their varietal with a region well known for that varietal. Eg. Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley Riesling and so on.

Many reasons are given by retailers for the existence of cleanskins;

  • The wine was exported and subsequently returned to Australia that are no longer current vintage and the winery doesn’t want to hurt sales of their new product by letting an old vintage flood the primary/secondary market.
  • The wine was not made in a sufficient quantity this vintage to justify the production and design of labels.
  • That there is an oversupply of grapes at the moment, and grape growers may be unable to sell grapes that would normally make the standard to their contracted buyers, thus someone will buy the grapes at a discount, but be unable to identify their source for contractual reasons.
  • Plus many others. Of course the reason that concerns me the most, and obviously isn’t going to be stated by a retailer, if if the grapes or finished wine weren’t up to standard and nobody was willing to put their name on them. A number of wineries suffered from bushfires in Victoria for the 2003 vintage, and are releasing their wines as cleanskins because of the overly smoky nature of the finished wine. I can understand that a winery may need to do this from a commercial standpoint, but it’s hard to see much of a benefit from a consumer standpoint.

    It is almost impossible to tell what a cleanskin will be like until you have actually opened one, since they will be vastly different from retailer to retailer and from vintage to vintage. I guess the motto has to be “try before you buy”, but when there are perfectly good labelled wines retailing at a similar price point and with some measure of track records and public reviews to judge against, it seems to me that the success of cleanskins is somewhat unexpected.

    How prevalent are cleanskins in countries outside of Australia? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and if this practice is appearing elsewhere.

    Join the conversation! 1 Comment

    1. I’ve never bought cleanskins . I actually thought they were illegal in NZ but I came across this site: http://www.cleanskinwines.co.nz/index.html – I have no idea who they are, where they are, reputation etc. I wouldn’t buy from them, but I wouldn’t buy cleanskins anyway. Yet I have friends in Australia who often purchase cleanskins and are quite happy with the product.

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