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Vegan Wines: Trend or Wake-Up Call?


#1

The Vegan phenomenon has been going on for a little while now but it seems that it has literally exploded in 2018 (remember #veganuary ?)

Only a couple of years ago, we were all going bananas about gluten-free and this health craze is still going strong, with some breweries for example using anything but wheat, and instead opting for millet, rice or even quinoa (very middle-class beer indeed!)

When it comes to wine, there’s no gluten in sight, however, it can be tricky to know if a wine is vegan or vegetarian as it not that obvious and labelling is not always clear. The good news is The Society recently introduced a directory of vegan wines (and vegetarian wines too!) on our website, so now you can shop with confidence.

So, is vegan wine a trend or a real wake-up call?

It seems like the nation is suddenly becoming:

1- Health conscious (that’s a first…)

2- Animal-welfare conscious. Fair enough. If I was working in an “abbatoir” (God forbid!), I would also probably stop eating meat. But then I prefer blocking the horrific images of pigs being slaughtered and thinking of them happy, having a good time in spa-style mud pool. And then bacon magically appearing on my supermarket shelf (Note to self: must stop living in fairy land…!)

But what is vegan wine anyway?

As we all know, wine is made from grapes. So far, so good. No animal-related components there. The issue arises when it comes to the fining process.

All young wines are hazy (due to tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates and tannins). However, we wine-drinkers like our wines to be clear and bright!

Producers use a variety of aids called ‘fining agents’ to help the process along. 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. The problem is that a lot of these are derived from animal products.

Traditionally the most commonly used fining agents were casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). They are not additives to the wine, as they are precipitated out along with the haze molecules.

But today, to the great joy (and probably relief) of wine-loving vegans, many winemakers use clay-based fining agents such as bentonite, which are particularly efficient at fining out unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal is another vegan and vegetarian-friendly agent that is also used.

And an increasing number of wine producers around the globe are now electing not to fine or filter their wines at all, leaving them to self-clarify and self-stabilize. Such wines usually mention on the label ‘not fined and/or not filtered’.

So there you have it. Now, you can be a vegan AND enjoy good wines!

Happy drinking !

Marjorie


#2

It’s when you read something like the above you realise that so many of these “trends” have little to promote them.
If qualifying to be a vegan wine means substituting the old animal based agents with a clay based one despite the fact the animal ones are removed, an act not disimilar to claims for chicken soup where the nearest a chicken has been is when it was waved over it, then we are in la la land.

Doing that may keep some zealot happy but will not alter the wine one iota, and why would wineries cater for such a small market other than to claim some higher moral base, and of course publicity.


#3

Um, so we have a modern clay-based ‘vegan’ fining agent, that has had no impact on animals whatsoever - no farming etc. Or we have an old style one that uses animal products and therefore does have an impact on animals. Both achieve the same end result.

So it’s an absolute no-brainer that vegan is better, right? I don’t consider myself a zealot, and I’m very much a meat-eater, but if there’s an option that doesn’t cause pain and suffering to animals then you’d better believe I’d rather take that one. I commend the wine-making industry for finding a more humane alternative.


#4

Understood, @Bargainbob. But I think isinglass and gelatine are both by-products. i.e. it is a use for something that would otherwise be discarded.


#5

Is Isinglass a by-product of Lord of the Rings? :wink:


#6

No, it’s the next borough across from Camden


#7

…sigh…

Does anyone here remember Malcolm Gluck? (And sorry if that just made you spray a glass of something nice all over your screen). He used to promote the idea of better quality wines at lower price points, which is a worthy endeavour. But increasingly he liked to play the controversialist, or even just the contrarian.
Anyway, one of the subjects which finally lost him somewhere in orbit was an obsession with calling Bentonite-fined wines as having been treated with “cat litter”. Bentonite is just a clay of course, and the whole project was daft and attention-seeking. I wonder where he is now? Possibly approaching Alpha Centauri.

But thanks @mcropp for the intro. I’ve been aware of the existence of wines rated as suitable for vegans for some time, and now is undoubtedly a good time to draw them to our attention. Though in passing, if I were a winemaker I would give activated carbon a miss. Its main use is to adsorb things such as volatiles, and as these are a main component of the flavour in a wine, then that’s unlikely to be helpful. Although if you were planning to distil the wine and make a neutral spirit, then it may have a part to play there.


#8

I think this is sort of where I stand too. Even if they’re byproducts, if not using them helps in any way then I’m fine with it. And I’m only a part-time vegetarian…

My vegan friend won’t touch honey because bees made it. But while the Vegan Society explains that they don’t believe honey is vegan because it ‘exploits’ the bees into making it, for my friend it’s just that she finds the entire concept of eating animal-based products gross.

Another wine-related issue re: veganism is whether biodynamic wines can be classed as vegan. I know there’s been some unease surrounding using animal products in the vineyard (the whole ‘cow horn filled with manure’ thing), so while none of the animal products end up in the wine, the process used to grow the grapes does use materials many vegans aren’t comfortable with.

It’s an interesting dilemma. Any vegans here care to give their view? Would be fascinated to hear what you think.


#9

For those not interested in this thread a useful how to…

Over and out. :slight_smile:


#10

So egg whites cause suffering to animals ?


#11

I have no problem with the use of an animal by-product, but then I’m not a vegan! I do have a problem with unethical farming practices and unnecessary animal cruelty and if there is a commercially viable, environmentally ethical alternative that doesn’t affect the quality then I guess- why wouldn’t you use it?

The ‘problem’ (if there is one) probably comes in the low cost of the current fining agents

Like @Ghost-of-Mr-Tallis I would be concerned about activated carbon removing some of the good stuff and from my lab days I remember it costing a fair bit more than some albumin would!


#12

Strange that the really important issue of animal cruelty, one huge area is constantly brushed under the carpet here in the UK, but fining agents are top of the agenda!


#13

I know enough vegans to say that, in my social circles at least - fining agents are most certainly not top of the agenda!

My comment was a more general one and to elaborate a little- we always try to buy the most responsibly sourced meat we can. Supermarkets don’t always make that easy and there are alternative meat sources that we use sometimes but could probably rely on more regularly

Anyway, I’m taking this OT so back to those fining agents! :slight_smile:


#14

Depending on how the chickens are housed and fed, yes. Let’s not pretend that they’ll be paying the extra for organic/free range egg whites, so there’s at least chance a chicken spent its life in a cage to filter my wine. If I can get a bit of clay to do that instead then I’m all in.


#15

He is currently the wine columnist for Conde Nast Traveller and regularly comes to our press tastings (although not this one just gone).


#16

Don’t really care about the fining but I’m very pleased to see these new filters - anything that improves the UX for members and makes it easier for people to find exactly what they want is a good thing :+1:


#17

Oh, that’s interesting. He seemed to have gone to ground after some sort of dust-up at the Oldie, but I’m quite relieved to hear he’s bounced back. I imagine Condé Nast Traveller wouldn’t be too interested in the sensationalist side of things.


#18

Me too. Also vegetarians, some of whom are very strict in other ways.

And quite reasonably so too. I would expect there is a far greater animal content in most wines from vineyard insects (and even small mamals and reptiles}. And more generally, any intensive monoculture, like most viticulture, is not good for wildlife.


#19

Speaking of intensive agriculture and wildlife, I will leave this here for discussion (not all views necessarily representative of my own)


#20

I read this recently @danchaq - really thought-provoking! As someone who is trying to be vegetarian the majority of the time, and trying to be a savvy shopper when it comes to animal-friendly dairy etc, this really put things in perspective. I definitely want to buy local whenever it’s practical/affordable.