Whether a moral, environmental, or health concern, more and more people are turning to vegan diets and lifestyles. Alcohol seems to be the one indulgence that vegans can participate in. After all, grains and grapes go into making beer, alcohol, and wine. Because wine is mainly created from grapes, most people assume that all wine is vegan, but, this isn’t the case.
It’s time to cover the three things you need to know when shopping for a vegan wine.
1. Not all wine is vegan
This is the big misconception. For a wine to be vegan, everything that goes in to the winemaking process and touches the product cannot have animal or animal byproducts in it. Most wines use animal byproducts to filter their wine. There are other options to filter out the wine, such a diatomaceous earth. Ingredients like this keeps the wine clean and vegan.
Why does wine need to be filtered?
Wine is filtered to improve its color and clarity. Most consumers don’t want to drink cloudy wine with sediment in the glass and bottle.
How is wine filtered?
To filter wine, fining agents are used. A fining agent is a product that’s added to wine to remove sediment. Even if clarifying wine is not a concern, some fining agents also reduce bitterness, help mellow unwanted odors, and remove browning caused by oxidation.
What are specific fining agents used for wine?
Some cellar practices for filtration can use animal-derived fining agents. This includes bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes).
Fining agents that are considered vegan include diatomaceous earth (silica), bentonite (clay), and activated charcoal.
How do fining agents work?
Basically, the fining agent acts like a magnet – attracting the molecules around it. They cluster around the sediment and make it easier to remove.
Can fining agents linger in bottles of wine?
Yes, in trace amounts. This is why all wine is NOT vegan, as small amounts of fining agents can remain after they help collect sediment in bottles and improve clarity.
2. Environmental claims ≠ Vegan
For a wine to be certified vegan, no animal byproducts can touch the product (see point #1). Some companies use the term “vegan wine” followed by phrases such as “environmentally efficient drainage, solar lighting, and aggressive recycling and composting program.” Environmental consciousness is BEYOND important, but that does not equal Vegan.
Other environmental terms that are important to know and understand (definition props to Merriam-Webster)...
Biodynamic - a system of farming that follows a sustainable, holistic approach which uses only organic, usually locally-sourced materials for fertilizing and soil conditioning. Farms are viewed as a diversified ecosystem, with different crops grown together and they can base farming activities on lunar cycles. This term is NOT regulated by the US government.
Organic - a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods (without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or insecticides). Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances. The term IS regulated by the US government.
Sustainable - harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. This term is NOT regulated by the US government.
Natural - in terms of winemaking, it is wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention. A LOT of food and beverage companies use this term, but know that it is NOT regulated by the US government.
Learn more about these terms specifically for the wine industry here.
Companies tend to throw around words like “natural”, “sustainable”, and “vegan” without much regard to what they actually mean. Consumers are starting to fight back with lawsuits, but know that these terms are still not regulated. Doing your own research into the products you buy can go a long way.
3. Look for the logo
It’s easy to feel defeated when shopping for vegan wines. Wine producers are not required to tell consumers which fining agents are used on the label. Most wines do not share that information with consumers and are not required to by law. Therefore, it can be hard to know which wines are vegan.
But, there is some help...
Just like the USDA certifies a product organic, there are certain organizations that certify products vegan. The Certified Vegan Logo is a registered trademark, similar in nature to the kosher mark, for products that do not contain animal products or byproducts and that have not been tested on animals. This is a great resource when shopping for vegan wines.
More info on The Certified Vegan Logo...
Liquids such as beer, wine, maple syrup, and fruit juices may not be filtered, defoamed, or clarified with animal products. Products must not have involved animal testing of ingredients or finished products by the supplier, producer, manufacturer, or independent party and may not be tested in the future.
Vegan certified products may not contain any animal-derived GMO's or animal-derived genes used to manufacture ingredients or finished product.
In addition, companies must show that acceptable steps are taken to thoroughly clean and sanitize all surfaces, vessels, utensils, and machinery used between vegan and non-vegan production cycles to minimize cross-contamination if shared machinery is used.
Now that you’re armed with the knowledge, you can buy some fabulous vegan wines here. Cheers!