Those who practice veganism abstain from consuming any goods derived from animals. We know this. We also know that wine is made from grapes. So, why are vegan wines growing in popularity? Aren’t all wines vegan? Nope.
A, perhaps lesser known, part of the winemaking process is how it is clarified. In this process, called ‘fining’, your naturally hazy glass of wine becomes the clear, bright and appetizing liquid you savor. According to The Kitchn “Most wines, if left long enough, will self stabilize and self-fine.” But, as the adage goes: time is money. And, therefore, many winemakers use fining agents to accelerate the process and get their wines ready for market faster. The Kitchn describes how fining agents work: “Essentially, the fining agent acts like a magnet — attracting the molecules around it. They coagulate around the fining agent, creating fewer but larger particles, which can then be more easily removed.”
Okay, fine. But what does fining have to do with wine’s vegan status? Well, the most common and traditional fining agents all come from animal byproducts. There’s casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). Once the wine is fined, these agents are precipitated out along with the molecules they attract, but tiny traces of the agent may be absorbed into the wine–thus rendering the wine not-vegan.
So what is vegan wine? Is it unfiltered or un-fined? Sometimes, and if a wine hasn’t gone through this process that will be indicated on the wine label and vegans and vegetarians alike can be sure their wine is suitable for their diet. But also many winemakers have begun using bentonite or other clay-based fining agents or even activated charcoal to help filter their wine. Both of these options are vegan-friendly.
However, as not all winemakers list the fining agent on the label, it can be very difficult to determine whether or not a wine is vegan or vegetarian if it has been fined. There are, of course, vegan wine brands such as Kind of Wild, who you can count on being vegan regardless of filtration. Kind of Wild wines also champion overall sustainability in wine-making, taking the stand that a wine cannot be truly vegan if it wasn’t sustainably farmed.
Other vegan wine brands or varieties rely on marketing to inform the public that they are safe — but for traditional winemakers who just happen to use vegan-safe fining agents, for those for whom “vegan” isn’t a crucial part of their brand or marketing, it may not be top-of-mind or even beneficial for them to shout their vegan status on their label. There has been much lobbying to change US wine labeling laws to include ingredient listing, but so far it isn’t required. Therefore, it can be a challenge for vegans and vegetarians to determine if a wine meets their dietary requirements.
But, the aforementioned article on The Kitchn has more information and a list of recommended vegan-friendly wine options to get you started.