What! Isn't All Wine Vegan?
Recently, we’ve been asked if our wine is “vegan”. What is a vegan wine? Are all wines vegan or not? If not, then why not? And how can I find vegan friendly wines?
Why Not All Wines Are Vegan (or Even Vegetarian)
As we all know, wine is made from grapes. Essentially wine is fermented grape juice. Yeasts, either natural or cultured, convert the grape juice sugars into alcohol. So far this all seems to be vegan friendly.
The reason that all wines are not vegan or even vegetarian friendly has to do with how the wine is clarified and a process called ‘fining’. All young wines are hazy and contain tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are all natural, and in no way harmful. However, we wine drinkers like our wines to be clear and bright.
Most wines, if left long enough, will stabilize and fine without any assistance. However, traditionally producers have used a variety of aids called ‘fining agents’ to help the process along. Fining agents help precipitate out these haze inducing molecules. Essentially, the fining agent acts like a magnet attracting the molecules around it. They coagulate around the fining agent, creating fewer but larger particles, which can then be more easily removed.
Traditionally the most commonly used fining agents were casein (milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). These fining agents are known as processing aids. They are not additives to the wine, as they are precipitated out along with the haze. None of the fining agent remains in the finished wine.
Fining with casein and albumin is usually acceptable by most vegetarians but all four are off limits for vegans. But there is good news. Today many winemakers use clay based fining agents such as bentonite, which are particularly efficient at fining out unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal is another vegan and vegetarian friendly agent that is also used.
In addition, the move to more natural winemaking methods, allowing nature to take its course, means more vegan and vegetarian friendly wines will be in the market. An increasing number of wine producers around the globe are electing not to fine or filter their wines. Such wines usually mention on the label ‘not fined and/or not filtered’.
Apart from mentioning whether it has been fined or filtered, wine labels typically do not indicate whether the wine is suitable for vegans or vegetarians, or what fining agents were used. There has been much lobbying to change the US wine labeling laws to include ingredient listing, but so far it isn’t compulsory.
How To Tell If a Wine Is Vegan or Vegetarian Friendly
So, if the ingredients are not listed how is a vegan wine drinker to know whether a wine is vegan friendly? It’s not easy. If you call around to a few State Stores and ask if they have any vegan friendly wines you will be met with a ‘what do you mean?’ But don’t give up. There is help.
Websites don’t typically allow you to search even for organic or biodynamic. As natural winemaking gains more market, perhaps we’ll see progress in this approach. A very good online resource for finding which alcohol is vegan is a site called Barnivore (www.barnivore.com), which is a database of user submitted brands. They have an app for looking up info on the go.