At our Cellar Door, many of our visitors are telling us they want to be more mindful about their choices, even when it comes to wine. One of the most common questions we get asked is whether our wines are vegan friendly. Many people believe that all wine is vegan friendly I mean, it’s made from grapes, right? Not always! Discover in this post how to identify wine that’s vegan friendly.
Wine. It’s full of grapey goodness, so for those who have made the choice to be vegan it should be simple. Get to know a winemaker, however and you’ll discover that winemaking is anything but simple! Once the grapes have been picked, getting the grapes from the vine into the bottle is as much an art as it is a science, but in the case of vegan friendly wines, we need to focus on the science bit to explain.
When a wine is first made it looks nothing like the crystal clear whites and rich, deep reds you find on the shelf at your local retailer or cellar door. A young wine is much more unrefined and contains lots of floaty bits in it. And because of this, it can also appear cloudy. These ‘floaty bits’ are in no way harmful. They’re actually just really tiny molecules of protein, tartrates, tannins and phenolic compounds, but it’s not a look that most wine lovers find appealing. And the molecules are so tiny that we cannot completely filter them out by mechanical means. So, an important step in the winemaking process is called ‘fining’. This, used in conjunction with filtration, is how winemakers create a wine that has amazing clarity and looks good enough to drink. Prior to filtering and bottling, winemakers introduce fining agents to the wine. In science-speak, these fining agents are like magnets. They attract the molecules winemakers don’t want to keep so that the molecules attach to the fining agents and become larger so they are easier to remove by filtration.
What Stops a Wine From Being Vegan-Friendly?
The most common fining agents in winemaking are protein based because these compounds are the strongest ‘magnets’. In the olden days, winemakers would use things readily available to them. Think Ox blood and bone marrow but over the years, and as wine production has evolved into a respected global food industry, winemakers have perfected the science of fining. These days common protein based fining agents used include casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg white protein), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). Unfortunately these are exactly the things that vegans are trying to avoid.
The good news is there are a range of animal-friendly fining agents that can be used to make vegan wine. Many of these alternate fining agents are earth based such as clay (bentonite), limestone and silica gel. Activated charcoal can also be used as well as plant casein and vegetable plaques.
How to Identify Vegan Friendly Wine
If you’ve chosen a vegan lifestyle and are trying to eliminate animal products or by-products you should look out for disclaimers on wine labels that contain the words: “May contain traces of egg or fish products.” In Australia, we’re required by law to include these disclaimers but unfortunately that’s not always the case with wines from overseas.