As someone who lived in France for a while and grew up in a family that values “fine wine,” I quickly learned to appreciate the occasional glass of vino. I enjoyed visiting wineries and attending wine tastings, but even then I never fully understood what goes on behind the scenes. I assumed that consuming fermented grapes once in a while couldn’t be that bad for your health and that, surely, it aligned with my plant-based lifestyle; however, this assumption was far from accurate. I was recently surprised to learn that wine isn’t as vegan-friendly as one would think, as it often contains animal products along with harsh chemicals.
Why Wine Isn’t Always Vegan
Making wine isn’t as simple as fermenting grape juice; there are many more steps involved in the process. In order for alcoholic fermentation to occur, yeasts must be present to convert the sugars from the grapes into alcohol. These yeasts can either be natural or specifically selected and cultured, and although both of these are typically vegan, cultured yeasts are raised in a lab and often genetically modified to have favourable traits in order to improve the fermentation process.
Once fermentation is complete and the wine is almost ready to be bottled, the final step in production, much like other food and beverage items, is to make the wine look more aesthetically appealing. This is commonly referred to as the “fining” process, which is the act of adding a product to the wine to remove suspended solids, ultimately making the wine look clearer and brighter as well as reducing any browning, harsh tannins, and off-odours. Even though most wines will actually self-stabilize and self-fine, adding a fining agent will speed up this process and ensure it’s done correctly. But once the fining agent is added, the wine may no longer be vegan.
According to PETA:
Popular animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes).
There is a lack of transparency regarding which wines contain fining agents and animal products, as many companies do not publicize these details, making it be difficult to identify which wines are truly vegan and which aren’t.
Don’t Worry, Vegan Wines Do Exist
Set your worries aside — you can find vegan wine as long as you do a little digging. There is a growing market for vegan and vegetarian wines as well as more natural wines that don’t undergo the fining process. Some of these are labeled as vegan, and many others are naturally vegan, even if they aren’t labeled as such, since a number of fining agents are plant-based.
The most popular vegan-friendly fining agents are:
- Activated charcoal (carbon): Carbon can remove the browning and off-odours from oxidized wine, but you need to be careful while using it because it can strip the colour from wine.
- Bentonite: A popular fining agent, but it can be less effective and more labour intensive.
How to Tell Which Wines Contain Animal Products
Since wines do not typically list the ingredients on the packaging, figuring out whether or not wine contains animal products can be challenging. Currently, there are no laws mandating wine companies to label what type of fining agents they use. However, some vineyards print a “may contain” list on the back of the bottle, which can be a good indicator. It’s important to note that not all organic wines are vegan, although most “natural wines” are because they aren’t conventionally fined. If you’re shopping in-store, it is worthwhile to ask a sales associate if they can recommend a vegan wine. Natural wine importers are a great place to start shopping as well, as they are often more knowledgable about their products and have a larger selection of vegan wines.
The internet can be a great source for recommendations of vegan wines. PETA has a list of vegan wines that you can view here and Barnivore, a vegan alcohol guide, has an even more extensive list here.
Bear in mind that even though vegan wines are often a more natural alternative to conventional wine, they are still a form of alcohol, which has detrimental effects on your body. Even consuming organic wine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be exposed to harsh chemicals (check out our article on how glyphosate was found in organic wines here). I’m not saying that you should never drink alcohol, but it is crucial to understand the threat it poses to your health. To learn more about the effects alcohol has on your body, check out the following article:
***Final words: many types of alcohol aren’t vegan
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