With more people considering – if not actively embracing – a vegan lifestyle in recent years, its left people questioning “what is vegan wine?”
You would be forgiven for thinking that all wine is vegan wine. It makes sense given that the drink is made from fermenting grapes.
Grapes are vegan and wine is made entirely from fruit. What could be non-vegan about that?
Well, while wines are made from fruit and are vegan, the production processes used in a winery can take a fruity wine and turn it into something vegans would rather avoid.
How Do Wines Become Non-Vegan?
Knowing that the production process can make wine non-vegan leaves one wondering at part of the process it can become non-vegan. The answer is the fining agents.
These agents are used to make the wine clearer and they can be non-vegan. Fermentation is when the magic happens in the winemaking process.
This is when the natural sugars in grapes are converted into the alcoholic beverage we know and love.
Winemakers put the fruit juice in a fermentation tank where the yeast grows.
This yeast triggers a reaction in sugar, creating wine at the end of the process. Molecules can appear in the wine during this fermentation process.
The molecules can make the wine appear hazy and unclean. These molecules can be tartrates, phenolics, and – in the case of red wine – tannins.
These molecules are all-natural by-products of the wine production process. They are also all entirely harmless and can be safely consumed.
There’s really nothing wrong with drinking cloudy wine as it doesn’t present a health risk.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where aesthetics is king, and people don’t want to drink cloudy wine.
Winemakers know that they must eliminate these molecules because only crystal-clear wine is popular and sells. This is where the fining agents come in.
Fining agents are the only way to remove these “contaminants” and get a clear wine. This is where some wines cross the barrier and stop being vegan-friendly.
The most common and traditionally used fining agents contain animal products. Red wine, for example, uses egg whites (or albumin) to clear these molecules.
White wine uses milk protein (called casein) to clear the wine and make it more appealing to drinkers.
Of course, these are animal products and no vegan would want to consume something that contains them.
Does Wine Have Animal Products In It?
This no doubt has you wondering if wine contains animal products or not. Do the fining agents stay in the wine?
When the fining process is complete, these fining agents are removed from the final product.
Whether the wine contains milk protein or egg whites, they are taken out when the job is done so they aren’t left in the wine.
However, because of how wine is and works, there is the chance that tiny traces of the animal products are absorbed into the wine.
The result is wine that does technically contain animal products and is therefore non-vegan.
It’s important to remember that albumin, casein, and other fining agents are only processing agents.
They aren’t additives to the wine and aren’t left in there. As such, they might not be listed on the wine label as an ingredient.
This makes it hard to distinguish which wines do or don’t contain animal products.
The Future Of Wine Production
The good news for wine drinkers is that the future of wine is looking distinctly more vegan.
As veganism becomes more popular and accessible, there’s also a greater need for biodynamic and organic wines.
Winemakers are responding by adopting more natural approaches to creating wine.
The thing is that wine typically self-fines if left alone. When left to develop perfectly naturally, wine eventually clears itself up just fine without the need for animal products.
The result is a vegan-friendly wine that just takes a bit longer to make.
Even if a wine doesn’t self-fine or a winemaker doesn’t want to wait that long, there are plenty of vegan-friendly fining agents they can use.
For example, clay-based methods are a great way to fine wine without having to use animal products and taint the wine.
The most common alternatives vegans use are bentonite clay or activated charcoal.
This is better than the animal product alternatives, but neither of these are completely vegan.
Activated charcoal is made from burned animal bones, which is something vegans would rather avoid.
Bentonite clay is – more often than not – mined from the ground and processed in a non-vegan manner.
The other substances, such as activated carbon, are sometimes used in cosmetics and personal care products.
Activated carbon is made from fossilised wood or seaweed, which is not only vegan but also renewable.
For instance, the carbon is harvested from old wood rather than mined in the Middle East.
It’s then either powered through dry distillation or by way of active carbonisation.
This process releases natural oils and forms the carbon allowing it to be used as a vegan-friendly fining agent.
Whether you’re a seasoned wine drinker or are just beginning your love affair with wine, it’s good to know that you can enjoy a glass without compromising your principles.
Vegan wines are here to stay and they’re getting better every year.
Even though winemakers aren’t in the habit of declaring fining agents used in the production of wine on the label, whether they used clay, egg whites, milk protein, or something else, there is a way to tell if a wine has been fined or not.
Given that the fining agents are the only animal products that go into wine, one that hasn’t used a fining agent is naturally vegan.
Look on the label to see if you can find the words “Unfined” or “Unfiltered.” These labels mean that the wine was made without the use of any fining agents.
As such, these wines are totally vegan-friendly. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to tell if wine is vegan-friendly by looking at the label alone because there isn’t enough information on there.
If you are ever in doubt about whether a wine is vegan friendly or not, you should look up whoever produced the wine.
They should make it clear on the website or the store listing if the wine is vegan.
If you can’t see a vegan-friendly label, then assume the wine isn’t suitable for vegans.
Or you can always cut out the middleman by going directly to the vegan wine section and seeing what’s on offer.
While it’s true that wine itself is naturally vegan, sometimes the production process means it isn’t.
As wine ferments, molecules form in the wine that make it look cloudy.
Even though these molecules aren’t dangerous to drink, winemakers remove them to make the wine look clear and pleasing to the eyes.
Some of the agents they use to do this, known as fining agents, are animal products that make the wine not vegan-friendly anymore.
Check the wine label to see if wine is unfined or unfiltered. Any wine made without fining agents should be vegan-friendly.
There are plenty of vegan wines to choose from and more being made each day so don’t think that being a vegan means you can’t enjoy a fine wine.
It’s good to know you don’t have to compromise your values just for a drink.