Vegan Wine: The Truth About Winemaking
It's a common misconception that all wine is vegan. Most wines, believe it or not, contain animal byproducts.
Truly vegan wine is not something that's easy to get in your local grocery store. Check out this guide to learn why and how to get your hands on a bottle that is!
What!? I Thought Wine Was Just Grapes?
After nearly a year of patiently tending to their crop, farmers have only a short period of time to harvest the grapes. Just one bad day could cut their yield substantially, so the rush is on! This rush is aptly called the wine crush.
During the wine crush, winemakers add different ingredients to aid the fermentation and filtration process. For example, yeast is introduced to the fruit juice to convert the naturally occurring sugars into alcohol.
All wine contains tannins, proteins, tartrates, and phenolics, which can make the wine look cloudy, or may give the final product a bitter taste.
To clear things up and help the fermentation process, producers add fining agents into the mix. This is where an otherwise vegan product can run into trouble - many of these fining agents are animal-derived, and not vegan.
Fining Agents that Aren't Vegan Safe
Most fining agents contain animal byproducts of some kind. Depending on the agent used, some wines are vegetarian, but not vegan.
Here are a few common animal-derived fining agents:
Egg whites contain a globular protein called albumen. Adding albumen to wine is one of the oldest finishing methods in the winemaking industry.
Albumen is often added to red wines while they're aging in a barrel to reduce the number of tannins. Tannins have a negative ion charge, while albumen is positively charged. This means tannins attach themselves to the albumen and sink, resulting in a clearer, brighter red wine.
Unfortunately, not only is albumen an animal product, it is an allergen as well. It can cause nasal congestion, hives, skin inflammation, and cramps in allergy sufferers.
Casein is a type of phosphoprotein found in milk. It is a popular fining agent, commonly added to white wines to help clarify them. Casein can remove impurities in the wine and reduces the number of phenolic compounds that give it a bitter after taste.
If you have ever had an allergic reaction to milk, cheese, or other dairy products, Casein is likely the cause. Allergic reactions to wines containing Casein can include sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, swelling, itchy skin, and skin rashes.
Gelatin is a protein that comes from animal bones and hides. It is commonly added to red wines to reduce tannins and lower the extra astringency, which can give red wines a bitter aftertaste.
Like egg whites, gelatin is a potential allergen as well. It can cause hives, itching, vomiting, and even swelling in the mouth and trouble breathing.
Wines that use gelatin are neither vegetarian or vegan safe.
Isinglass is a fining agent found in the swim bladders of fish, most notably the Beluga sturgeon.
Isinglass is used in wine as a soft fining agent, to keep from stripping the flavor from blushes and whites. It helps remove impurities and gives white wine its beautiful clarity.
Because Isinglass is removed directly from the fish bladder, wines made with this fining agent are not suitable for strict vegetarians or vegans.
Worse still, Isinglass can cause allergic reactions that range from skin flushing to cramps, diarrhea, wheezing, and inflammation.
Chitosan is a carbohydrate that exists in shells of all crustaceans. Since it has a positive ionic charge, it can be used to get rid of phenols. It can also fade excess color in white wines.
If racked and settled the right way, drinking wine that contains chitosan shouldn't harm you if you have a shellfish allergy, but caution should still be advised. The use of chitosan makes the wine neither vegetarian or vegan friendly.
Are There Any Vegan Safe Agents?
With the long list of fining agents that aren't vegan, it can be hard to believe that there are any at all. And just because they're vegan friendly, doesn't necessarily mean they're safe.
PVPP is a human-made plastic that can be used in wines to absorb phenols and colors. It gives rosé the elegantly pale color that it's known for and can get rid of the bitterness that comes hand in hand with some red wines.
While it might be vegetarian and vegan, it is also plastic. Plastic is not safe to use, and plastic products are never used in any Smartvine wines.
Bentonite is a purified clay made from volcanic ash. It can help clarify white and rosé wines and can reduce off-flavors or aromas.
While it's vegan and naturally occurring, it tends to fade and dull the wines' color, so we don't use it in Smartvine wines.
What do We Use? Diatomaceous Earth
Also known as Diatomite or DE, Diatomaceous Earth is a naturally occurring fining agent made of fossilized diatoms. It is a near-pure sedimentary deposit consisting almost entirely of silica.
Diatoms are single-celled aquatic algae that grow in almost any environment that contains water and sunlight. They are abundant in both fresh and saltwater, and biologists credit them as being one of the most important forms of life.
Diatomaceous Earth is vegan, natural, renewable, and non-toxic, making it the perfect fining agent for Smartvine wines.
How Do You Tell if a Wine is Vegan?
As stated before, it can be hard to find vegan wine. Most wines sold in stores use gelatin, albumen, casein, and other non-vegan friendly products. So, how can you tell if your wine is truly vegan?
The best thing to do is to check the label. Look for the Certified Vegan seal like the one that SmartVine has.
If you're buying online or directly from the vineyard, look for the Vegan Certified seal. If it's not present, contact the producer and ask if it's vegan before purchasing.
Navigating the World of Vegan Wine
Contrary to popular belief, not all wine is a vegan or even vegetarian.
Many producers use animal-based products in the fining process, which causes the end product to be neither vegetarian or vegan safe.
Worse, some vegan wines use toxic plastic products in the winemaking process which, although vegan, obviously aren't reflective of the healthy lifestyle you've chosen to adopt.Of course, all of our rosé, white, and red Smartvine wines are 100% Certified Vegan and don't use any animal byproducts or harmful plastic products. Go to our store to check out our selection, or join our Wine Club for delicious, vegan-friendly wines delivered to your door regularly.