Contributor: The Fizz Co
Apart from the legendary blackberry wine of the seventies we can safely say wine is made from grapes. This means there’s no whiff of animal products in sight, right? Wrong! It may surprise you, even shock you to learn that not all wine can be termed vegan. This article will take you through the wine making process, help you understand the difference between natural, organic, biodynamic and bog-standard wines and what it all means for vegans.
Let’s start with a quick look into the wine making process -grapes are picked and pressed. The pressed juice is put into steel tanks and the juice is allowed to ‘settle’ for a few days. The sediment falls to the bottom of the tank and the purer juice is pumped into another tank. This is called ‘racking’. (For red wines the grape skins are often left with the juice at this stage to intensify colour and flavour).
Yeast is added to start the fermentation process, it reacts with sugars in the grape juice and converts them into alcohol. This stage can last up to three weeks and when it’s finished the winemaker has a tank of (cloudy) wine. The particles causing the cloudiness are insoluble and are made up of dead yeast cells called ‘lees’, bacteria, tartrates (harmless crystals), proteins and pectins (from grape skins).
As a nation of wine lovers we have all become accustomed to clear, bright, wine. In order to achieve this, the wine must be ‘clarified’.
There are several ways to do this:
- Time – the winemaker can play the waiting game and use gravity to allow the particles to settle naturally. This can take months and time is money when the wine is sitting in the cellar, unsold!
- Clarification can be speeded up using ‘fining.’ Fining agents are added to the wine to bind with the unwanted, insoluble, particles. This makes them thick enough to be caught in filters which the wine is passed through. Fining agents are often animal based products which is obviously a cause of concern for vegetarians and vegans. The most common agents are albumen from egg white, gelatin, casein from milk or isinglass from fish bladders. However, no animal products need be involved as bentonite clay and charcoal are available.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way of determining which fining agent the winery used and currently there is no UK law which requires the winemaker to state this information on the label. Some supermarkets have started to give this information on their own brand wines. If you buy from a reputable wine merchant they should also be able to tell you.
Another point to consider is that once the wine has been filtered there should be no trace of the fining agent in the wine. However, some countries require winemakers to state the fining agents used in case of allergic action. Having consulted a lot of literature to write this article there is by no means a straightforward, single answer about this!
Natural and biodynamic wines are also growing in popularity. However, are they always vegan?
Natural wines are made with minimal intervention. There is no official set of rules that natural wines must conform to, but usually the grapes are grown in organic and/or biodynamic vineyards and no additives (such as sugar or acid are used to make the wine) and no fining agents are used to clear the wine – hence their cloudy appearance.
If you’re interested in natural wines beware if they are biodynamic! The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are forbidden in biodynamic vineyards and they will most probably use Preparation 500 which is manure, buried in cows’ horns in the vineyard for 6 months and then dug up and used in sprays and compost throughout the vineyard!
Hopefully this article gives an insight into the complexities of wine making, helps inform your decisions and assures you that vegan friendly wines are available. You just need to read the label and ask some questions. Cheers!
Bio: The Fizz Company is family run business, which imports champagne, prosecco and sparkling wines from small producers around the world; for people in the UK, who care about what they drink.
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