Every industry has its controversy. Sporting events have controversial plays or bad officiating. Politics have their hanging chad. And the wine industry has Clef du Vin (Cley doo Van). While I must confess to an embarrassingly thick and uncooperative tongue when it comes to the French language, I at least know that this phrase translates as "The Wine Key". The developers of this controversial device claim that it speeds the oxidation of wine, thus allowing a buyer to enjoy an aged wine without waiting (instant gratification just isn't fast enough anymore), or to evalutate the wine's age worthiness prior to purchasing and storing the wine.
They claim that each second it touches a wine, its taste reflects what would naturally occur after one additional year in the bottle (1 second of contact = 1 year of aging, 2 seconds = 2 years, etc.) Some months ago I was approached about carrying this product in my online store. A sample arrived and an experiment conducted and the device clearly changed the wine in my glass. But I wondered how ANYBODY could determine whether each second of contact actually WAS equivalent to one additional year in the bottle.
Clef du Vin has some big names behind it, top sommeliers from France (where such a position carries even higher esteem than it does here), but I wanted the opinions of winemakers I knew and respected. Each one I spoke with is normally a jovial sort, the kind of person you'd want at your table. But this topic brought froth to their lips...
Winemakers don't look kindly upon things that alter their product in unpredictable ways. So I never carried the device in our online store. Then I had a chance to interview Jerome Poiret, who works for Clef du Vin. In preparing for the interview, I thought about what questions you would want to ask, if you were in my seat. I hope you'll find that these are one and the same, but if you have additional questions, please use the comment field and I'll reply in kind.
Q: Jerome, it seems rather phenomenal that sticking a bit of metal into a wine for a few seconds can actually change it. Can you begin by simply explaining to us how the Clef du Vin works?
A: Clef du Vin is an alloy of several metals. It’s a very powerful oxidant that will oxidize the wine. One second, in a 10cl glass of wine, equals one year of oxidation in the bottle. Clef du Vin does not duplicate natural aging, as it will not change the color of the wine, but the taste and aromas will be VERY, very, very, very close to the future ones. Clef du Vin alloy is a catalyst that transmits nothing into the wine. The French “National Trials Laboratory” tested it, proved no migration of any metal into the wine and declared it safe for food contact. You’ll find more technical explanation here.
A: Clef du Vin is the invention of winemaker Lorenzo Zanon (left) and sommelier Franck Thomas (Best sommelier of France and Europe 2000). Mr Zanon (enologist and PhD in chemistry and biology and an instructor in both) sought a tool to measure the level of redox during the making of his wine. The idea came after the ancient tradition of dipping a coin into the wine to lessen the tannins. The complete history is in the previous link.
Q: Several months ago I was asked to carry the Clef du Vin on my website. Before agreeing to do so, I discussed the device with some winemakers I respect. It’s probably no surprise to you that they were less than enthusiastic. After crafting a wine they were proud of, they recoiled at the idea of someone altering their product in a manner they could not predict or control. If you could talk directly to them, what would you say to this concern?
A: Clef du Vin is just a tool. It will gauge, measure, the wine’s aging potential. It simply will tell you if the wine will age well or not, and when it will match your taste. Also, it will help you enjoy a wine that is too young. But it’s no magic. Clef du Vin will not turn a bad wine into a Chateau Petrus!
Winemakers must not be afraid. Clef du Vin will not “judge” their wine. It will just help people who drink their wine to manage their cellar and better enjoy a too-young wine. Moreover, with Clef du Vin, the winemakers themselves have a scientific tool to prove their claim regarding the aging potential of their wines. Some French winemakers provide their salespeople with Clef du Vin to show the customers that their wines can age well. To sum it up, Clef du Vin will provide the oenologist with information about the oxidation-reduction of his/her wine. Having a better understanding of this complex process is invaluable when making decisions during the production and maturation processes. The Clef du Vin is an aid to sales on a large scale, it optimises the selection and purchasing processes. It increases the pleasure of drinking, thus increasing the sales of wines at a restaurant for instance.
Q: Your advertising claims have been brought to the London-based Advertising Standards Authority, and the claimant was upheld. The bureau ruled that, while your product clearly speeds a wine’s oxidation, you “had not shown that oxidation was a major phenomenon in the wine maturing process”. Would you like to use this public forum to address this concern?
A: Anybody in the wine industry knows that oxidation is a major part of the wine maturing process. This “Authority” accepted neither the testimonials we provided nor the article in the “Revue Française d’Oenologie” we submitted, nor the lab reports from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) or the University of Bordeaux. The report is based on the Redox phenomenon and concludes ”...we notice a normal evolution corresponding to the aging of the wine that could take place in bottles. Tasting reveals flagrant modifications regarding the tannins. After 3 seconds wine seems more round with an open bouquet. ”
What more can I say? Sales in England are going strong, and we've sold almost 100,000 Clef around the world in just 2 ½ year. And word of mouth is our only Advertising.
Q: I’ve tested your device and found that it undeniably changes a wine, but am not sure how anyone, ANYONE, can determine whether each second of exposure is the same as one more year in bottle. How can you be sure this is true?
A: You will find here a technical page on how Clef du Vin was born and tested. Let me just emphasize that Clef du Vin carries 4 patents, and was tested for over 10 years before being released on the market. Please also refer again to the testimonial and lab report.
Q: OK, before we wind down I have two questions. It seems one of the reasons people would purchase a Clef du Vin is to enjoy an “aged” wine without taking the space to store the wine for several years. But another reason might be to sample the current vintage to see how the wine will develop in the cellar, and using the result to make very significant investment decisions. Are you comfortable with the use of your product for both purposes?
A: Oh yes. The 3 “serious” purposes are:
1. Before purchasing a wine, to help determine whether you want to drink it soon or to lay it down and, therefore, how much you'll want to buy.
2. To help mange your cellar by drinking wine when it reaches its best, according to your own taste.
3. To help you better enjoy a wine that is too young, perhaps due to a lack of storage space.
Then there is simply the fun of it. Playing with Clef du Vin is very fun. It will entertain your party, everybody will have fun with it (“I like it after 3 seconds”, “No, I like it better after 5 seconds”, “Let’s try it on another wine!”), will talk about wine, and drink a little more…
On this matter, I refer you to this extract of our User manual.
Jerome, thank you for taking the time to be with us today. I wish you the best of luck with your product, and recommend that you check back periodically to read the comments left by my readers.