What’s not vegan about wine?
Whenever the topic of veganism comes up with friends and family while we’re enjoying a glass or two of wine, many are surprised to learn about the use of animal products in wine-making. “I don’t get it. Why aren’t all wines vegan?” they ask.
It is a confusing and often overlooked issue for vegans and non-vegans alike. Winemakers Jason Robideaux and Cheryl Murphy Durze of Vegan Vine, an entirely vegan vineyard in California, have written a guest post for ADC readers that I thought was super interesting. They’ll explain the wine-making process, the alternatives to animal ingredients, and why they ceased the usage of any animal products in their own vineyards. Sadly, Vegan Vine wines are not available in Canada (yet), but I’m happy they’re willing to share their knowledge.
In doubt about your favourite wine? Check out Barnivore.com. Or call the winery directly!
It’s a precocious wine, not overly oaky, with just a hint of fish bladder and egg whites
If you’re vegan, you’re already used to reading labels for hidden ingredients like whey and lanolin in the foods and products you buy. For many people adopting a compassionate diet and lifestyle, it takes longer to figure out that wine is all too often made with animal ingredients. Unlike packaged foods, these ingredients added to wine are not required by law to be listed on the label.
The animal-derived ingredients commonly used in wine-making practices are used to “fine” or filter wine. These are isinglass (a very pure form of gelatin from fish bladders, typically sturgeons), gelatin (from boiled cow’s or pig’s hooves and sinews), albumin (the opaque stringy part of egg whites), and casein (familiar to most vegans as the main protein in milk, that ubiquitous ingredient that renders many “non-dairy” cheeses non-vegan cheeses). Technically, isinglass used in the process doesn’t end up in the bottle. However, from a vegan perspective, using animal products at all renders the wine unsuitable for vegans.
Fining agents are added to the wine to make it visually clear. Filters will remove larger particulates like dead yeast cells and small grape fragments, but a fining agent removes or reduces excess tannins, colour, and tartrates—crystalline deposits that occur naturally during the fermentation and aging process. Fining agents act like a magnet for the microscopic particles and larger molecules, which then makes it possible for them to settle and/or filter out.
Extreme temperatures or rapid temperature changes can also cause a haziness in white wines. These extremes cause proteins to precipitate out of solution—you no doubt remember that from high school chemistry? Okay no, but it creates solid masses floating around in your glass, which is not too attractive. To prevent this from happening, a wine needs to be both heat- and cold-stable. This allows you to put your white wines in the refrigerator, or let them or sit in your car while you run one more errand on a hot summer day. (Yes, it’s okay. We give you permission.)
Haziness, very noticeable in white wines, and “floaties” in the glass can be a turn-off to people. However those unidentified floating objects can add to the complexity of a sound and balanced wine and help it develop over time in the barrel, and in the bottle. If you’re professional drinkers like we are, you’ve probably noticed that many reds and even whites are bottled unfiltered and/or unfined. Some of the most famous, priciest wines in the world are bottled unfined and unfiltered—meaning no animals were harmed to make them.
There is a fining agent that is 100% vegan and 100% effective in removing haziness and undesirable characteristics—Bentonite clay, the same ingredient used in some skincare products touted for its ability to suck toxins from your pores and clear up your complexion. Your mileage may vary on that, but at Vegan Vine, we’ve proven it works for wine.
Bentonite is a naturally occurring clay produced by the weathering of volcanic ash. It’s used to enhance the heat or protein stability of wine, and stops precipitates or tartrates (aka “floaties”) from forming in the Sauvignon Blanc you put in the fridge overnight. For cold stability, wine is simply chilled down to temperatures below 30 degrees F to drop out the crystal.
When making wine without animal ingredients, the most important wine-making process is the art of patience. Yes, fining agents can speed up the processes that occur naturally in wine, meaning a winery can rush their product to stores. But at the right temperature and the right time period, these tartrates, tannins, proteins and other large chain particles will naturally settle out of wine by gravity alone. Old world techniques, and a patient demeanor, can help produce some of the best wines in the world, without using one single animal product. As we have demonstrated at our vineyards in San Martin, California on the northern central coast, a climate and geographic setting, or “terroir,” that lends itself to producing naturally softer, less tannic wines also helps.
We’ll be honest: we didn’t set out to be an all-vegan winery. Our family has been in the wine business for decades. However, a vegan in our family asked about animal ingredients in our production process, and after a few glasses of wine, like so many other great ideas, we conceived a clearly, unmistakably vegan wine brand. Once sober, we realized it was still a genius plan, and in the process educate consumers about animal ingredients in wine.
As Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” For sure she was not talking about wine, but we believe that when vegan consumers learn the truth about animal ingredients in wine, they will be more conscious about choosing wines that live up to their values.