Wine is a funny thing. In theory, it’s just fermented grape juice. However in practicality, there’s a lot more intricate steps involved in the process. If you’re an individual who cares about the welfare of animals and choses not to eat meat, how your wine is made should be something of interest to you.
Many wines available on the mass market involve the use of something called a fining agent to help quickly clarify and remove impurities in the wine. Initially without fining, a wine will appear cloudy or hazy. If the wine maker does not want to take the time to allow the haziness to clear, they may choose to use a fining agent in order to speed up this process. During the fining process things like dead yeast cells, tannins, phenolics, and polysaccharides are bound to by a fining agent. When these compounds are bound to, they then become large enough to filter out.
Doesn’t seem so bad, right? But what are these fining agents made out of?
Fining agents, if chosen to be utilized by the winemaker can be comprised of a wide variety of substances. For all intents and purposes, the substances of most concern are those containing animal products.
Animal Products used during the fining process:
- Albumen, derived from eggs, usually supplied in powder form.
- Casein, another egg derived product
- Chitin (fiber from crustacean shells)
- Gelatin, made from boiled down skin, connective tissues, hooves, and cartilage (usually cows or pigs)
- Isinglass, made from fish bladder membranes
Legally, wine labels in the United States do not have to disclose what fining agents they utilize (if any) and if they were derived from an animal product. However, in other parts of the world some wine labels are required to disclose if the contain allergens such as shellfish for example, which would indicate probable chitin usage.
Vegan friendly options include:
- Bentonite Clay
- PVPP (Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone)
- Vegan Gelatin
- Pea Protein
- Carbon (also known as Charcoal)
- Or simply no fining agent at all!
Think all dirt is created equal? Its not! Soil can contain so many different elements to it and this can impart different flavors and aromas into the wine. For the sake of this article, the practices we’re most concerned with involve animal remains. In large, industrial scale agricultural scenarios it’s not uncommon for them to utilize slaughterhouse waste as fertilizer to the soils. This is not something that will be openly disclosed nor is it required to be. One alternative vegan friendly option is tilling plant waste back into the soil, also referred to as “green manure.” The online retailer/importer Vegan Wines does make sure all it’s wines are completely vegan down to the soil. This is really something important to this particular brand.
How will I know if my wine is vegan friendly?
This sounds trickier than it should be but usually Vegan friendly wines will disclose so. Sometimes there will be an obvious “V” emblem on the bottle but not always. Here are some additional clues that you may find helpful.
- Biodynamic wines use cow manure/horns when fertilizing the soil. If this is something you’re strongly against, stay away from biodynamically labeled wines.
- Wines that state they use no fining agents. As described above, fining agents can potentially be made with animal containing products. If a wine is not finned then they did not use the above substances.
- Wines labeled as “natural” will inherently not use fining agents. However, keep in mind that biodynamic also means animal products have been used in the soil.
- You may check tech sheets from the wine’s distributor/importer. There you may find out information like if the wine is unfined/filtered and the agricultural practices.
What are online retailers that have vegan wines?
Below are just a few online retailers that supply truly Vegan wine.
Hope you enjoyed the article. If you have any additional resources
you would like to let me know about or vegan wine finding tips,
leave them in the comments section!