With an estimated 542,000 people following a vegan lifestyle in the UK, the number of products made animal-free is on the up. While some wines are already vegan, most are not. However, the rising popularity of veganism has meant that winemakers are slowly beginning to shake-up their process to make way for this cultural shift in dietary requirements.
Why is wine not vegan?
With the main ingredient for wine being grapes, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to presume that wine is naturally vegan, or at the very least vegetarian. However, there are several stages to producing wine that requires other ingredients to come into play to complete the winemaking process, and often, these are not suitable for those pursuing a life free of animal products.
This is mostly the case for the process known as ‘fining’, which makes the wine clearer and less bitter tasting. In the early stages of winemaking, the wine will look cloudy and contain other matter, such as proteins or tannin. While vintage winemakers may just let the wine settle and wait for these to clear naturally, most producers of normal wine will filter out these impurities through the fining process. Traditionally, the fining process is achieved by using one of these products, all of which are non-vegan, and some are not suitable for vegetarians:
- Casein (a milk protein)
- Gelatin (a protein gained from boiling animal parts)
- Chitin (a fiber that comes from crustacean shells)
- Blood and bone marrow
- Fish oil
- Egg albumen
- Isinglass (a gelatin that comes from fish bladder membranes)
Although these are used in the winemaking process, most wines do not mention them on the labels, so if a bottle of wine does not explicitly state that it is suitable for vegans, it probably isn’t!
What do vegan wines use for the fining process instead?
Wine that is suitable for vegans obviously has to use something different as a filter. Popular methods for vegan wine filtration use items such as:
- kaolin clay
- bentonite clay
- silica gel
- plant casein
- vegetable plaques
Where can vegan wine be found?
Recently, the Co-op began its launch of vegan wines, with 55% of their bottles on offer now suitable for vegans. They are also aiming to have 100 more bottles suitable for vegans available by the end of the year. With more and more customers seeking animal-free alternatives, supermarkets and sellers are turning to their suppliers to seek vegan-friendly alternatives to the fining process. Unlike regular wine, wine suitable for vegans tends to be labelled accordingly, making it clearer and easier to find a bottle.
Natural wines also present a naturally vegan alternative for wine lovers. Natural wine does not use any fining ingredient, leaving it with a cloudy appearance. Many are also either organic or biodynamic, perfect for those seeking chemical-free products. The organic wines are made from grapes grown without the use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides, while biodynamic means that only herbal sprays and natural composts are used.
If you would like to check if a bottle of wine is vegan or not, a comprehensive and searchable database is available here.
Are there any vegan wines on your wine rack? If so, let us know your favourite in the comments below!