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Why Wine Isn’t Always Vegan

Vegan Wine
Photo: CC0 / Unsplash / Maja Petric

Vegan wine? Most drinks are vegan by definition, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t always true. We explain which animal substances are used in many wines, and show you how to reliably find vegan wine brands.

Traditional Winemaking Often Uses Animal Additives

When it comes to the grapes growing in the vineyard, there’s no difference between non-vegan and vegan wine. However, cloudy substances often develop during the manufacturing process, or other undesirable tastes, colors, or smells appear. In such cases, winemakers will clarify or ‘fine’ their wine. For centuries, they have used various animal proteins in the production process:

  • Casein: Casein comes from fresh milk. It combines with the impurities and settles at the bottom of the barrel. The clear wine is then skimmed off, so that there is virtually no protein and no cloudy impurities left in the wine. Although only tiny traces of the fining agent may remain, even the use of these substances means we can’t strictly call the resulting product vegan.
  • Albumen: Albumen is a constituent of egg white. It reduces a wine’s tannin content, making it milder. After its addition, fine, filterable grains form in the wine. Manufacturers mainly use this process of ‘egg white fining’ to control the flavor of red wine.
  • Gelatin: Gelatin is a by-product of the meat industry, using animal skins, bones, and carcasses. There are vegan alternatives to gelatin, but why put it in wine at all? Gelatin also combines with the impurities and settles at the bottom of the barrel. The wine can then be simply drawn off.
  • Isinglass: Isinglass is the dried swim bladder of fish! Just like gelatin, it binds small particles such as cloudy substances in wine. The isinglass sinks with the particles to the bottom and the clear wine is skimmed off.
  • Lysozyme: Lysozyme is an enzyme found in egg whites. Winemakers use it to stabilize wines and prevent spoilage.
Wooden Barrels
Some winemaking techniques are centuries old – and some are much more modern. (Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / Leo Hau)

Four Ways of Making Vegan Wine

There are plenty of vegan wine brands where manufacturers clarify their products with minerals or plant proteins, instead of animal ones. Here are some of the methods modern winemakers can use.

  • Vegetable protein: This can come from peas, beans, potato starch, or similar sources. Just like animal proteins, they bind the cloudy impurities in the wine and make it clearer.
  • Bentonite: Bentonite is a highly absorbent natural clay. It can be used in the same way as proteins and is considered to be the safest, most effective agent for removing impurities from vegan wine.
  • Activated carbon: Activated carbon filtration also helps prevent flavor defects, unwanted odors, or discolorations in the wine.
  • Sedimentation: Particles in wine settle by themselves over time. They then remain behind when manufacturers filter their wines, or when we decant wine at home. This natural process enhances a wine’s quality and is particularly gentle – but also very time-consuming.

The production of vegan wines is not more expensive than using animal substances. Still, be aware that vegan status does not mean that the wine is organic. Organic criteria dictate that, for example, agriculture does not use certain chemical sprays such as glyphosate. This is important in order to preserve the biodiversity of our vineyards.

How Do I Find Vegan Wine Brands?

Vegan Wine Brands
There are lots of vegan wine brands out there – find one to enjoy with your friends! (Photo: CC0 / Unsplash / Zachariah Hagy)

There’s not usually a list of ingredients on a bottle of wine – ideally there should only be one ingredient! However, manufacturers do not have to list the additives used in the winemaking process either. This can be annoying, because it makes the search for vegan wine more difficult. Dietary information beyond the wine’s alcohol and sulfite content is not obligatory in the US. Consequently, you will only definitely know if a wine is vegan if the vineyard deliberately (and voluntarily) labels it as such.

One thing that will help you find vegan wine is if the label says unfined or unfiltered. This will automatically mean that no animal fining agents have been used. Thanks, though, to the growing number of vegans in the States and elsewhere, many winemakers nowadays clearly state that their wines are vegan. The excellent online vegan resource Barnivore has an exhaustive list of vegan wines. And here are a few vegan wine brands, in different price segments, just as inspiration!

  • Charles Shaw blends: Widely available at Trader Joe’s (and often referred to as ‘Two-Buck Chuck’ for their budget pricing!), all of this brand’s wines are vegan.
  • Sutter Home: With wines in a broad range of prices, Sutter Home makes a huge selection of vegan wines.
  • FitVine wines: This distinctly modern brand makes wines which conform to a range of dietary and lifestyle choices, including low carb white wines.

We recommend organic vegan wines like the following:

  • Lunaria: This Italian winemaker produces strictly organic wines which are all sold in traditional, beautifully-designed bottles.
  • Lumos Wine Company: Although they’re a little more expensive, this Oregonian vineyard makes really great vegan, organic wines.

This article was translated from German by Will Tayler. You can read the original here: Veganer Wein – was macht ihn aus?

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