Vegan Wines – Let’s Get Educated
Because wine is a beverage made from fermented grapes, you might think it’s vegan. But, is it? Let’s get educated about vegan wines.
Reasons People Go Vegan
More people are going vegan these days and for different reasons. Here are a few:
- Health – Some people believe vegan-based eating and drinking makes them healthier.
- Animal welfare and the environment – People with a deep love for animals and those concerned with environmental catastrophe often support veganism.
- Religious or spiritual beliefs – Many religious and spiritual traditions restrict consumption of animal products.
- Small business – Some people believe small wineries are more vegan-friendly than larger ones. However, we don’t know the truth because we don’t have the data.
Ferreting out businesses that make vegan wines, or even vegan wine clubs, isn’t easy. Not every small family-owned winery is free from the pressures of Mother Nature and economic realities. So, education is necessary to find wines made with vegan principles.
Vegan Wine Definition
A vegan wine is one in which the growing and processing are free of animal-based ingredients.
Growing - In the Vineyard
In a typical, non-vegan vineyard, animal-based products like manure, bone meal, or animal blood are used as fertilizers. Manure comes from industrial farms and may include antibiotic residue. Biodynamic farming promotes the use of cow horns filled with manure-based compost.
Processing - In the Cellar
In the cellar, animal-based products are used for filtering and fining wine. These processes clarify the liquid, removing organic materials after fermentation. After grapes have been fermented and turned into alcohol, the wine needs to settle.
Red wines are first drained off the must (the stems, skins, and seeds.) Then the wine sits, allowing the sediment of dead yeast cells, proteins, and other compounds (called colloids) to fall to the bottom of the tank.
If wine isn’t allowed to settle, these compounds leave it looking cloudy with visible residue. Some colloids in a finished wine can result in flaws with off aromas and flavors.
White grapes are pressed off the skins and seeds before fermentation, but the wine still needs to settle after.
Options for clarifying wine include racking, filtering, and fining.
Racking is the process of settling the wine then drawing it off the sediment. It’s the oldest and most common method but takes more time than filtering and fining.
For thousands of years in Europe, winemakers dropped egg whites into barrels of wine. The proteins in the egg bound with the grape proteins, and the compounds fell to the bottom of the barrel.
If a winemaker chooses to filter, and then fine, filtering comes first. Filtering uses fine mesh filters to remove larger particles. It’s typically used in larger production operations and for younger wines.
The fining process involves agents like egg whites to remove tiny particles. Though animal-based fining agents do not remain in the wine, just being in contact prohibits the wine from being listed as vegan.
Filtering and fining are faster and more precise than racking.
Today, you find more unfined and unfiltered wines than in the past 40 years. Some winemakers rack and then fine, while others believe that filtering and fining remove some flavor compounds.
Animal-Based Fining Agents
Animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine include:
- Egg Whites, also called Albumen (common for red wine)
- Milk products
- Isinglass or dried fish bladders (common for white, rosé, and sparkling wines)
- Gelatin (food grade) from animal protein
- Animal pancreas and stomach
- Casein – animal milk protein (common for red wine)
- Chitin – fiber from crustacean shells
The use of non-vegan ingredients goes beyond filtering and fining. Beeswax is used for sealing bottles, and some manufactured corks use glue made from animal milk.
Vegan Wine Fining Agents
In the vineyard, grape growers can use cover crops or other products like alfalfa instead of manure to supplement the soil.
In the cellar, winemakers can avoid fining by racking or by using vegan-friendly options such as:
- Bentonite or kaolin clay – common with white wines
- Silica Gel
- Pea protein (an alternative to gelatin)
- Paper filtering
- Plant casein
Some of these require several stages of fining.
Vegan Wines in the Marketplace
There are no global or legal standards or national regulations in the U.S. about vegan wine. Some countries, like New Zealand and Australia, require label disclosure for fining agents, especially those that might cause allergic reactions.
Because many people refuse products using animal ingredients, it’s surprising that this type of labeling is voluntary in the U.S.
Consumers don’t know what’s in the wine they buy. In fact, up to 70 different ingredients can be added to alcoholic beverages, though the FDA is currently reviewing disclosures about allergens.
You may think that wines with organic, biodynamic, or natural labeling would be vegan, but this isn’t the case.
Vegan Wine Terms
- Unfined and unfiltered wines are vegan.
- Wines filtered with certain types of filters (ceramic or cross-flow) are vegan. You may find these used at larger operations that want to avoid animal products.
- Wines fined with non-animal agents are vegan.Not Vegan Wine Terms
Vegan Wine Terms - Not
- Biodynamic wines are not vegan because of the use of cow horns and manure.
Vegan Wine Terms - Maybe
- Organic wines may or may not be vegan.
Other wording you might see:
- Vegan Approved or Vegan Friendly
- Suitable for Vegans
- No Animal Ingredients or Cruelty-Free
- Suitable for Vegans
These are primarily marketing terms.
Be wary of wines claiming to be vegan that lack third-party verification. The only way to find out for sure is to ask the winemaker or retailer. Read the technical sheets and look for the vegan section at your local retailer. You can also check with organic or health food stores.
Vegan Wine Certified Organisations
Some legitimate organizations are working toward transparency for vegan wines:
Wines have been filtered and fined for thousands of years, but the emphasis on non-animal ingredients is relatively new.
Most winemakers want to make healthy, tasty, and satisfying wines for people to enjoy. They’ll adopt animal-friendly products if consumers demand them.
Ask for vegan wines and be aware of what you are buying. Find producers and retailers you can trust.
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