Is wine vegan? That’s a question that all plant-based wine drinkers will want to know the answer to. But isn’t the answer super simple?
Wine is produced from fermented grapes, the way it has been for thousands of years. So surely this fruit-based alcoholic beverage is just about as vegan as it gets? Unfortunately, not all wine is vegan. In fact, a large percentage of processed wines (which is almost all wines) are prepared using a process that’s not actually vegan friendly!
Often, however, there’s no way to tell if your wine is vegan, unless it specifically says so on the label. Let’s take a look at why your wine might not be vegan, as well as how you can tell if your wine is vegan!
How Wine is Made
Wine has a long, long history of human consumption. People have been producing wine for thousands of years, and the basic, underlying methods have changed little in that time.
Wine is prepared from grapes. After being harvested, grapes are crushed using a press (the oldest grape press in the world is thought to be 6000 years old, and was discovered in Armenia). Then the grape juice is left to ferment into wine.
Different grapes give you different types of wine, with different tastes and aromas. Red grapes give you red wine; white grapes give you white wine. Ancient societies would ferment their grapes in large clay jars, while today, the process involves temperature-controlled fermentation tanks and elaborate industrial techniques that create a consistent, refined product.
If there’s only grapes then, shouldn’t wine be vegan?
What Makes Wine Not Vegan?
It’s important to note that the winemaking process in use today can involve non-vegan products. While yes, the primary ingredients are grapes, and there’s no meat or dairy floating around in the bottle of wine you picked up from the store, the use of “fining agents” can produce a non-vegan wine.
It’s these fining agents that are the answer to the question, “Why is wine not vegan?”
Fining agents are used by winemakers to produce a clear, “fine” wine. It’s essentially a form of wine filtration. Without fining agents, the bottle of wine in the store would be cloudy. While the cloudiness isn’t harmful, centuries of modern winemaking have left customers with the idea that all wine should be clear and cloudless. Filtering wine, then, has become an important part of the production process.
Traditionally, these fining agents have been derived from animal products. These products can be dairy, meat, or fish-based. The fining agents are filters, so while these products aren’t left behind in the wine, the process of winemaking can involve non vegan products.
Common non vegan fining agents include the following:
- Milk protein (casein)
- Shellfish (also known as chitin)
- Egg albumen (extracted from egg whites)
- Animal proteins (gelatin being the most common)
- Fish oil
- Isinglass (extracted from fish bladders)
So, there could be fish bladder in wine that you love, or egg in wine that you thought only contained grapes. If you’re vegetarian, flexitarian, or plant-based (but not a strict vegan), then it could be the case that you are okay with animal products in wine, such as milk protein or egg albumen.
If you’re not, however, then keeping your vegan pantry stocked up with wine becomes a little trickier!
What is Vegan Wine?
Can vegans drink wine? If you’re on a strictly vegan diet (and don’t entertain food production processes that involve any sort of animal products), then there are going to be lots of wines that you can’t drink.
Unfortunately for the consumer, though, it’s not always clear if a wine is vegan or not. Fining agents vary drastically from one producer to the next, and there is also a wide range of non animal products used for the same process.
Vegan friendly wine can be prepared using the following fining agents, for example:
- Bentonite clay (bentonite wine is prepared using a type of natural clay!)
- Calcium carbonate
- Plant-based casein
- Vegetable plaques
There are many more too – and thankfully, most winemakers are making a move towards vegan friendly fining agents.
How Do You Know if Wine is Vegan?
There are a number of specific vegan wine brands that advertise the fact they are vegan friendly, and that the wine has been prepared using vegan fining agents. A vegan wine list is still a rarity, however, and even if a wine has been produced using vegetable plaques rather than milk proteins, the winemaker might not have thought to specifically label this distinction on the bottle.
This gives vegans the extra task of having to ask winemakers if they have vegan red wines or vegan white wines. If you purchase wine from a specialty store or small winery, then you can ask for more information; if you buy wine at the supermarket, though, it’s more difficult to know what sort of fining process the wine has gone through!
There are a number of known vegan wineries that you can look out for. These include Cooper’s Hawk, China Bend, Fitzpatrick Winery, and Palmina Wines.
Is Wine Vegan? The Final Say!
So, is wine vegan? This is one of those questions where the only real way to answer it is to say “sometimes.” It really does depend on how the wine has been produced, with the “fining” stage of the process being the deciding factor.
Ultimately, it depends on your lifestyle too. Strict vegans need to check if the winemaking process involves animal products, such as egg whites or fish proteins. Vegetarians might not be too worried (after all, there are no animal products in the wine itself).
The good news is, winemakers are becoming more aware of their increasingly plant-based customers, and there is a greater awareness in the industry of the need to produce wine using vegan friendly techniques.
Why not bookmark our guide to vegan wine, so you can decide which wine is best for your diet?