Vegan wine, given that wine is made from fermented grapes, it seems obvious that it would be vegan. However, some winemaking techniques are actually not vegan compatible! Normally, wines that are not vegetarian or vegan friendly will have a warning on the label so that consumers known what they are getting themselves into. But let’s look at how wine is made, why it may not be vegan, and some of the best vegetarian and vegan wines available on the market.
Normally, pressed grape juice needs to settle before the fermentation process can begin. Suspended solids sink slowly to the bottom of the tank or barrel that the wine is stored in, and as the wine matures, it clarifies itself as solids continue sinking to the bottom. Wine made this way is considered unfiltered and un refined, and definitely takes longer to produce due to the slow, natural process.
Modern markets and high demand for certain wines have called for winemakers to develop ways to speed up the process though a technique known as “fining”. Fining frequently uses animal products to speed the production process and to bind and remove unwanted substances more quickly. Fining agents are generally removed before the wine is bottled, so there is no need to mention their presence on the wine labels themselves. Fining with animal products may also be done to correct faults in some wines, like cloudiness, or too much tannin presence. This process that speeds up production is what allows for some wines to be produced and sold so cheaply.
The animal products used in the fining process can include egg whites, casein, which is a protein found in milk, gelatin, isinglass, which is derived from the swim bladders of some large fish, and chitosan, derived from the shells of crustaceans. There are, however, vegetarian and vegan alternatives to these products that winemakers can use to ensure their production remains speedy and efficient.
Non-animal based fining agents include PVPP (poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone), which is a man-made plastic that absorbs excess phenols and colors in wines. Bentonite is another fining agent, which is made of negatively charged clay. It is used frequently in white and rose wines to ensure their clarity.
So, if winemakers aren’t obliged to share the fining agents they use in their wines, how can you know if a wine is vegan or vegetarian? We’ll tell you! You may not know this, but Angela, the owner and director of the Wine School Florence, is a vegan herself, and is always working to showcase excellent vegetarian and vegan products to promote the sustainability of the industry.
If you want to learn about how wines are made, or learn more about vegan wines, get in touch with Wine School Florence for a visit to a vegan winery, or a special class on vegan wines. This is definitely a trend that will continue to grow, and we will be keeping an eye on how the winemaking industry reacts to the desire for vegan and vegetarian wines in Tuscany!