There are several reasons why people adopt a vegan lifestyle. The biggest one of all is their love for animals. A plant-based diet is also good for your health as it can help lower the risk of several lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and much more. Studies have also found that a sustainable vegan diet could help save the planet as well. Judging by the wide selection of products at grocery stores, it seems like the vegan life is taking over. Unfortunately, animal products still lurk in unexpected areas. For starters, the wine world remains one of the trickiest places for vegans to navigate.
Is wine vegan or not? We all know that wine is made from grapes. This, so far, seems like a vegan-friendly beverage. Wine, however, goes through a process called fining, which involves filtering out hazy particles using animal products that bind these particles together. Although the end product is a fine wine, it is bad news for vegans.
The number of people adopting a vegan lifestyle is increasing every day. Those who adhere to such a diet refrain from consuming animal products or any foods/drinks made using animal products. Many industries are, therefore, making changes to accommodate vegans. Many of us love a glass of wine at the end of a busy day. But based on how wine is produced, what’s a vegan to do? Don’t worry –you’ve come to the right place for answers. I’ve covered everything you need to know about veganism and wine, including why wine is not vegan, favourable alternatives for vegans, and much more. Without further ado, let’s get started:
Why Is Wine Not Vegan?
At its core, wine seems like a vegan-friendly beverage as its just fermented grape juice. This is true up to the point after fermentation. The wine-making is a delicate process that involves a range of factors to get the desired outcome. It’s in the final step of fining that the veganism concept gets blurry.
You see, the by-products of fermented grape juice include some unwanted substances such as dead yeast, proteins, tannins, harsh phenols, and tartrates. These substances make the wine hazy, bitter, and a colour you wouldn’t expect. As the wine ages, over time, these residual solids begin to sink to the bottom of the barrel where they naturally settle out. Wines self-fine and self-stabilise in this slow, natural process. Wine made this way is often referred to as unfined/ unfiltered wine.
However, market pressures and modern wine styles demand a faster process. Plus, most wine-drinkers prefer clear and bright wine. For these reasons, many producers now prefer to speed up things by a process known as fining. During this process, a fining agent is used as a processing aid. When added to the wine, it reacts with all the substances that make it hazy and bitter and bind them together. This creates fewer but larger particles that can easily be filtered out. The fining process reduces unwanted flavours, makes wine look clear, and helps it to taste smoother even at a young age.
The most commonly used firing agents are made from animal products. These agents are usually filtered out along with all the sediment. This means that no or very little traces of the firing agent are found in the final product. Those who are vegan for health reasons might choose to ignore these very small quantities. However, for those who are vegan for animal welfare and the environment, the very suggestion of these ingredients is enough reason not to buy the wine.
Here’s a look at popular animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine, and why:
This is a protein obtained from boiling animal parts like hides and bones. Wine responds best to types A gelatin, which is obtained from boiling pigs skin. This is the most commonly used fining agent due to its effectiveness and potency. Just an ounce of gelatin is enough to clarify about 1,000 gallons of wine. It can be used on both red and white wines to help fix the haze, remove bitterness, and adjust the flavours.
This is a form of gelatin derived from fish bladder membranes. This firing agent is also common due to its potency and works to give white wine brilliant clarity.
A protein found in cow milk. This firing agent is used in both red and white wines to give good clarity and prevent oxidation.
This is a fibre derived from crustacean shells. It’s used to remove phenol and excess colour from white wine.
- Egg Albumen
This fining agent is derived from egg whites. It’s mostly used to clarify red wine by removing excess tannins. This works because egg whites have a positive charge while young tannins have a negative ionic charge. The two bind together and sink to the bottom, leaving clear, less tannic wine.
So, Are There Vegan Wines?
Luckily, yes! So vegans won’t miss out on all the fun! Winemakers are taking a more natural approach and leaving the wine to develop naturally and self-fine overtime. Needless to say, unfined wine is the safest option for vegans. Unfined wine is, however, a bit costly, looks cloudy, and probably tastes a little unfamiliar.
Luckily, there are plenty of animal-friendly fining agents, including:
- Bentonite clay
This is purified clay with a negative charge. It’s primarily used to bind protein colloids in both white and red wines, as well as making them heat-stable. Alternatively, activated charcoal can be used to remove off flavours, but it might strip wine of other desirable ones.
This is a man-made plastic substance that absorbs excess colours and phenol. It gives rose wines their elegant pallor.
There are also:
- Kaolin clay
- Vegetable plaques
- Plant casein
Vegan wine is not always easy to find. The first place to look is directly from the producer. You can also search for online services like Barnivore (A website that has been keeping data on vegan alcohol for nearly two decades). They list over 3,500 varieties of vegan-friendly wines. Last, but not least, if you shop in a dedicated store, there is a possibility they’ll know which wines are vegan-friendly.
With the rise of veganism, we can hope that vegan wines will have a bright future. Honestly speaking, wines that have been filtered the vegan way or the non-vegan way both taste the same. For this reason, it only makes sense to always use vegan wine, which is what many assume wine to be anyway!
Because firing agents are filtered out of the wine, wine manufacturers are not required to disclose these products. As such, most wines don’t show proof that they are free of animal by-products, animal testing, or any other form of animal exploitation.
There are over 60 ingredients that can be added during wine-making without needing disclosure on the label. This ranges from fining agents to stabilisers, oak chips, and even colour additives. Although these substances are filtered out, there could be small traces in the end products. This not only affects vegans, but also people who react strongly to common allergens used in the fining process like milk, eggs, and fish products.
So how on earth can you tell if wine is vegan-friendly?
As a general rule, wine with no specific vegan marker should be considered unsuitable. Look for wines that indicate which clarifying agents have been used. Considering the labelling movement hasn’t caught on throughout the wine industry, your best bet would be to go for unfiltered/unfined wine. Those artisan wine producers who don’t filter their wine do so with pride, and will often say so on their bottles. Look for words like unfiltered (English), unfiltriert (German), non-filtre (French), sin-filtrar (Spanish and South American), or non-filtrato (Italian).
The good news is shopping habits are evolving and consumers are now demanding transparency. Some wineries now see the value in ingredient-labelling. They make it clear whether the wine is vegan or not and also list any additives.
Other Things to Consider When Looking For Vegan Wine
Between the availability of vegan fining agents and the production of natural wine (allowing it to self-fine over the years), vegans will no longer have to worry about their drink having traces of animal products. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to tell whether animals were harmed in other ways for a bottle –even with ingredient-labelling.
Some vegans go beyond the wine-making process and look to see if any animal products were used during farming. For starters, they object to using animal-derived fertilisers such as fish emulsion from fish waste, horn manure, silica manure, or bone meal from dead livestock. Instead, they’re in favour of plant-based composts. This view also rules out vineyards that use animals such as horses for ploughing.
- Animal testing
Some vegans oppose the alcohol industry altogether. That’s because animals are frequently used in alcohol-disease related testing such as alcohol addiction, as well as alcohol-induced fatty liver and kidney disease. Whether or not this should be addressed by those who conduct animal-based academic research or the alcohol industry is a discussion for another day.
These two facts add to the lengthy list of why some choose to stay sober –as a nod to the animals. As someone who chooses to adopt a vegan lifestyle, I strive not to support industries and companies that exploit animals.
Vegan wines are uncommon but they do exist. While it’s not compulsory, some wine producers offer information on the wine-making process as more and more consumers demand transparency. This will help you determine whether your wine is vegan-friendly or not. As for the farming part, it’s up to you to conduct some research to ensure no animals were exploited for you to enjoy a glass of wine.