09/05/2006 - 22:00

War of words heats up over cleanskins

09/05/2006 - 22:00


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The debate over cork and stevlin may finally have been put to rest in Western Australia, but it has been enthusiastically replaced by argument over the merits of cleanskins – wine that is sold without a label, at a lower cost.

War of words heats up over cleanskins

The debate over cork and stevlin may finally have been put to rest in Western Australia, but it has been enthusiastically replaced by argument over the merits of cleanskins – wine that is sold without a label, at a lower cost.

Two people who know this more than most are Steve and Marie Cloughley, the young couple behind Subi Cleanskins, an innovative wine project that sprang up in Subiaco in 2004 designed to sell just cleanskin wines.

Their idea was simple; capitalise on the growing number of wine consumers who saw value for money in their wines as more important than buying a label or brand.

The couple was granted liquor licence for Subi Cleanskins in November 2004 and opened in December after surviving a challenge by Liquorland Australia Pty Ltd.

That case, in the West Australian Liquor Licensing Court, established that cleanskin wines should be considered ‘types of liquor’ able to be traded under WA liquor laws.

Two years on, Subi Cleanskins now sells more than 2,000 bottles a week from more than 100 different types of cleanskin wines in stock.

The Cloughleys didn’t bring cleanskins to WA but they were the first to treat this segment of the wine industry with anything other than ignorance or distain. Their stringent product testing regimes and firm commitment to stocking only cleanskin wines have created a loyal following and a profitable business.

The latest issue of Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine lists them among Australia’s top cleanskin wine traders.

On the back of this success, the Cloughleys opened a second store, on Stirling Highway in Claremont, in April, and plan a third location, in Victoria Park.

But they are again coming under immense pressure in their fight to sell cleanskin wines.

The Liquor Stores Association of WA has appealed the Liquor Licensing Court’s decision to grant the Cloughleys their licence in Claremont.

Also opposed to Claremont Cleanskins was a multitude of local liquor retailers, including Liquor Barons Claremont, Mt Claremont Cellars and Liquor Barons Dalkeith.

And if opposition to their licence was not enough to contend with, Claremont Cleanskins’ Sunday trading application has met state resistance.

The Cloughleys are calling for a significant review of current laws to test whether they should be granted a liquor licence.

As part of its submission to the Liquor Licensing Court, Claremont Cleanskins undertook significant research, which found strong support for the concept of cleanskin wines.

And while all of this legal manoeuvring is all going on, the debate over cleanskins continues in earnest.

While consumers have taken quickly to the idea, many in the wine industry feel that cleanskin wines are damaging and harmful to the industry as they cheapen the product and flood the market with so-called ‘inferior’ wines.

But it is hard to find evidence for these claims in the facts behind cleanskins.

Although bound by confidentiality agreements, cleanskin wine retailers such as the Cloughleys have wine sourced to them by small, medium and large wine producers. The wine sold in a cleanskin label will necessarily be cheaper because its price does not reflect the marketing and sales promotion of a label or brand.

With the current state of the industry, it is now possible for a wine to be sold under its normal label, and then excess stock quit to cleanskin retailers and sold without branding. The only difference is that the latter will be much cheaper.

“As a punter I found I would walk into a liquor store and buy the wine that was marketed to me the best, not necessarily the one that I was going to like the best,” Mr Cloughley says.

“If you take away the market generated reputation of a wine, all you have left is what is in the bottle and that is the way wine appreciation should be.”

There are still mixed feelings about cleanskins in the community but the simple fact of the matter is that there are now too many wines out there to sell.

And if you remove the stigma of cleanskins as being of questionable quality, their true value can be appreciated.

If not for cleanskin wines, many producers would be pouring their wine down the sink due to the current wine glut.

Wouldn’t that be the true tragedy of our industry?


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