When I first saw a bottle called the Vegan Vine, my heart stopped. Wasn’t all wine vegan? It’s just grapes, right? What animal products could there possibly be?
After a little research, I realized that it wasn’t so much what was in the finished product but what was used to get it there that may or may not be vegan. You see, after fermentation, the wine isn’t perfectly clear unless it is chilled down so sediments fall to the bottom, filtered through a machine or the winemakers add products that adhere to the free particles and sink them to the bottom. Unfortunately this last method is where we sometimes hit a bump.
A few popular, old-fashioned ways of fining involve adding things like isinglass (a fish byproduct), egg whites, casein or skim milk to catch the extra particles before wine is sent to age. However, it is also possible to achieve a similar end result by cold settling or using things like bentonite clay, carbon, limestone, plant casein, kaolin clay, silica gel and vegetable plaques.
So how do you know what the winemaker used to get the final product? If it’s not labeled vegan on the back (few are), you can always call the winery and try asking. However, many times the staff will be unable to help you unless you can get ahold of the winemaker themselves.
Biodynamic wines are vegan unfiltered but not completely vegan since they require the use of animal bones for the farming process. An organic label has potential but doesn’t necessarily mean they are vegan either. Unfined and unfiltered? Yes ma’am! Micro-filtered only? Pass the bottle! For fancy infographics, check out this article from Wine Folly.
If you do choose to drink it without knowing, you can rest assured you won’t actually be drinking any of those non-vegan additives. By the time it gets to bottle it’s just the wine again, so technically that part is vegan. That being said, if you are a strict vegan and refuse to put anything in your body that involved an animal product in the slightest, finding good wines is going to be a little trickier for you.
As someone who has worked in the industry, I admit it can be hard. I am a dietary vegan and for the past five years have been doing my best when it comes to lifestyle products, but I eat honey and drink wine. I seek out vegan and sustainable wines as much as possible, and will gladly share the ones I love with you, but just know that I’m not perfect and never intend to be.
Wine is something that, in moderation, is good for you. It is something that connects us deeply to the earth around us, and values the environment as much as we do. It is a beautiful reflection of what is possible when we care for land we have been given, but requires incredible dedication to remain sustainably produced.
Another great, brand new resource in the US is Vegan Wines, a vegan wine club. I believe in Europe you already have something similar! And while I can’t guarantee the quality, at least you know that every bottle you get is produced in a vegan-friendly way.
I too am constantly learning and discovering new vegan wines, so if you have any you love please share them in the comments!