Many vegans don’t realize that animal-based ingredients are often used in the winemaking process. We asked Cheryl Durzy from The Vegan Vine in San Martin, California, for some insider info on what makes a wine vegan or non-vegan, and how vegan winemaking differs.
It’s often believed that a bottle of wine’s ingredients are just…grapes and more grapes. However, many wineries rely on animal ingredients in the processing that make their wines unsuitable for vegans. Complicating matters is that grape harvest quality varies from year to year, depending on a multitude of factors, which means different vintage years of the same wine may have been produced differently. Websites and apps can steer people in the right direction, but if it says that a winery’s 2008 Zinfandel is vegan, but all you see in the store is 2009, you may still want to verify whether the 2009 is vegan-friendly.
The most common animal ingredients in non-vegan winemaking are:
- Isinglass, a very pure form of gelatin from sturgeon fish bladders
- Gelatin, extracted from boiled cow’s or pig’s hooves and sinews
- Albumin, from egg whites
- Casein, that ubiquitous protein in milk
Most of these animal ingredients are used as “fining agents” in the clarification of wine. Once the wine is filtered to remove larger particles like bits of grape and yeast, these ingredients are added to remove smaller particles that can affect the visual clarity and mouthfeel of the finished wine, and to stabilize the wine so strong tannins don’t develop in the bottle. Crystalline deposits occur naturally during the fermentation and aging process, and fining agents act like a magnet for these microscopic particles and larger molecules, which then makes it possible for them to settle and/or filter out. Egg-based ingredients are sometimes added to control the fermentation process.
Fortunately there are alternatives to animal ingredients. White Wines made by Vegan Vine are fined with Bentonite clay. It is equally effective in removing haziness and undesirable characteristics and it’s 100% vegan.
Vineyard management practices also matter. Factors like when to prune the vines, when to harvest the grapes, hand sorting instead of machine sorting, and decisions made during pressing affect the finished products. Knowing your fruit and vineyard, and closely monitoring the fermentation process, prevents much of the reasons animal ingredients are used in the first place.
The main factor in avoiding the use of animal products, and still producing a superior wine, is the art of patience. Adding animal ingredients often speeds up processes that occur naturally in wine, but at the right temperature and with the right time, tartrates, tannins, proteins and other large chain particles will 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.
Fortunately among boutique wineries, the trend is toward more natural, more minimalistic winemaking with less intervention and fewer invasive processes. This serves as further proof that there is nothing “missing” in a vegan wine.
Cheryl Murphy Durzy is vice president and proprietor at The Vegan Vine, grown and produced by Clos LaChance Winery. She sits on several wine industry boards, and is certified by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. Visit The Vegan Vine at www.theveganvine.com to order online or find out if it is sold in your state. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!