Vegan wine? Surely all wine is vegan? Vegetarian? It is a question that is not as obvious as you would expect. What about organic wine? Is it vegan?
Simply put, a vegan wine is one made without the use of animal products in the winemaking process. There are some different schools of thought, but this over simple definition probably captures the important sentiment. There may be a push in the future to include only plant based additives in the vineyard too. At the moment, it is still an unclear term.
The answer to those questions then is, possibly. However, unless it is mentioned specifically, it is not likely. Just because wine is made of grapes, it is not automatically vegetarian, let alone vegan. Looking at the wine’s ingredients is not really helpful. Wine is made of grapes fermented using yeast. Yeast is a microbe, not an animal product. Of course, that yeast needs to have been sourced without any animal products being used in any product used to grow it.
So, where are the issues? In making that wine, the winemaker may choose to use animal products in the process.
Organic does not automatically mean the wine is vegan
Even an organically certified vineyard can still use animal products to fine the wines. All it requires is that the animals and fish were organically raised. Furthermore, it might not involve animal products where the animal has been killed to use its body in some way. For instance, eggs are a traditional fining product and not allowed under Vegan labelling.
It is all fine…
Wines, particularly white wines, are usually fined before bottling to remove any sediment that might make the wine seem cloudy. Clear and bright white wine is highly desired by winemakers and by winelovers alike. Of course, that is unless you have intentionally purchased an unfiltered wine. To achieve that clarity, many winemakers will ‘fine’ their wines. In contrast, many red wines are left unfiltered. That light sediment adds desirable complexity in red wine with time.
It is here that animal products may used that will mean the wine is unable to classfied as vegan or vegetarian. The most common examples include, milk (casein) or egg. Or, it might be Isinglass which is produced from the swim bladders of fish or another gelatin product. In fact, in Bordeaux, it is tradition to use egg whites for fining. It is how we now have delicious Canales to enjoy. Rich Canales are made from the left over egg yolks that the vignerons have used the egg whites to fine their red wines.
There may be other animal products used as well.
Well not all…
Sparkling wines that have been disgorged, the process to remove dead yeast cells, will not need to be filtered using any animal products before sale. The disgorgement process removes all sediment by ejecting that sediment from the bottle. Or the wines will be filtered under pressure to remove that yeast and any other sediment that has remained. Not all sparkling wine is clear of sediment though. Some ‘pétillant naturel’ wines are sold with the sediment still in the bottle.
To read more about ‘pétillant naturel’ wines or pet nats, please read ‘What are Pet Nat wines? Should you be drinking them?‘
But this is not always the case…
Winemakers can choose vegan alternatives. There are a number of vegan substitutes that can be used.
For instance, wines can be fined with products such as Bentonite clay, carbon, or plant-based products. These are readily available for use and, indeed, many winemakers choose to use them today. Particularly, with organic or biodynamic producers. Those producers who have already invested heavily in ensuring their wines are ethically made. That their wines are not causing harm to the environment, biodiversity and life.
Some producers use the racking process to filter the wines enough for sale too. This process is when the wines are moved from the vessel they have fermented in or matured in to another before bottling. By doing this, the winemaker leaves the sediment in the original vessel. Therefore, vegan red wines might be easier to find as many reds are not filtered at all.
How do you know?
Generally though, wines will indicate on the back label that they are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. There might also be a symbol there to make it easy to spot. Otherwise, you will need to search the internet to find your information. Either the store you purchased it may note it, or if you are lucky, the producer’s website will have clear information.
So, to answer the all important questions, are all wines vegan? No! Plus, not all wines are suitable for those with a vegetarian diet. Undoubtedly though, there are some exciting vegan wines available. And more and more vegan wines are becoming available each day.