Is Wine Vegan?
That’s a question we get asked a lot around Whole People HQ. It’s usually while we’re serving vegan-friendly wines at one of our infamous Whole People house parties.
You may not know this but not all wine is vegan even though it’s made from grapes! Yes, vegan wines are not, in fact, the norm and you will need to look for vegan-friendly wines if you want them.
In fact, surprisingly, not all wines even qualify as vegetarian!
So, let’s take a look at wine and the wine-making process and how it’s possible for wine to be vegan and how it often isn’t vegan-friendly at all.
Is Alcohol Vegan?
Well, rather as with the question of vegan wines, it really depends on how the alcohol is made.
In theory, alcohol ought to be vegan as all you need to make it is some sugar, some plant material, and some yeast, but that’s not exactly how things actually work in the wine industry. The winemaking process is what matters.
“Fining” Is What Matters For Vegan Wine
So, at the base-level wine should just be fermented grape juice.
Take some grapes, add some sugar, put some yeast in there (natural or cultured is just fine), heat it all up in a sealed environment and the sugar gets converted into alcohol.
That process as described is 100% vegan or vegetarian. There’s nothing used that should give you or even the Vegan society any cause for concern.
However, in order for wines to be saleable – they must undergo a process of “fining”. And this is where wine drinkers need to be careful and read wine labels carefully.
That is they must be clarified to reach that nice clear color that you see in the bottle. Consumers don’t like cloudy wine and they won’t buy it.
Self-Fining Is A Thing
Now, if you leave a wine standing for long enough – it will self-fine. That is the tiny bits of stuff that float around in it will drop to the bottom of the bottle and it will go clear.
Now, it’s important to note that these bits which contain proteins, tannins, etc. are not harmful and don’t affect the taste of wine. So, there’s no need to do this when you make your own wine. So homemade wines are often vegan wines.
However, because consumers expect clarity – you can hurry the fining process along by adding “fining agents” to the wine.
These help to force the hazy bits to drop out of the wine by attracting them to the fining agent and then bonding with it, and thus making it heavier and bigger – which is easier to remove from the wine.
Fining Agents Are The Big Problem For Vegans And Vegetarians
Unfortunately, it’s these fining agents which can definitely stop a wine from being vegan or even vegetarian.
The most popular fining agents are: a milk protein known as casein, an extract from egg whites known as albumin, an extract from animals known as gelatin and isinglass which is extracted from fish bladders. Yes, most fining agents are not vegan fining agents, they’re animal products.
Now, it’s important to recognize that when the finished wine is shipped – none of these items remain in the bottle. There are no egg whites, for example, floating around in the wine nor any animal products of any kind, in fact.
They are a processing agent and not part of the wine. They’re decanted from the wine as part of the production.
However, isinglass and gelatin are not acceptable to most vegetarians whether they’re in the bottle or now and while vegetarians are OK with casein and albumin, most of the time, vegans aren’t going to be happy to discover any of these 4 products used in making their wine.
So, most wine is not vegan and a lot of it is not vegetarian!
The Fining Agents That Are Just Fine Are Bentonite And Activated Charcoal
Fortunately, this is 2020 and where there’s a demand, there’s a way to meet it.
Winemakers can now reach for two different fining agents that are completely vegan and vegetarian. They are bentonite (which is very good at fining and made from clay) and activated charcoal (burned wood, basically).
Of course, there is another option and that is to let the wine go through the self-fining process.
Then there’s no need to add any fining agents at all. If you find wine like this – it will probably have “not fined or not filtered” written on the bottle somewhere.
Sadly, there is no current requirement that means wine makers have to label their wines as suitable for vegans and/or vegetarians.
Now, that doesn’t prevent a winemaker from doing so and, in fact, some of the more ethical vineyards have already started to label their products so that the vegan consumer can make an informed decision on what to buy.
Shopping For Vegan Wine
We can’t pretend that every wine store will have well-informed staff, but we’ve found the best way to work out whether a wine is vegan or not is to ask in store. If they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about – go to a different store.
Alternatively, you can research online before you go shopping and see if you can find specific vegan brands.
So, Is Wine Vegan?
No, surprisingly not all wine is vegan and some of it is not even vegetarian and that’s down to a process called fining.
The good news is that there are vegan wines out there and you can find them if you look for them.
We drink a lot of wine at Whole People so you can trust our wine recommendations. For some vegan wine picks check out our guide to our favorite organic wines brands.