Wine as rosy as it’s made out to be?
Shakespeare “I pray you, do not fall in love with me, for I am falser than vows made in wine.”
It’s all too common nowadays that there’ll be someone at the dinner table who appears to be a connoisseur of wine peddling the bottle that’s being poured as extraordinaire… Words such as body, aroma, acidity flow out with ease and the bottle gets endorsed by the mere fact that it has been sitting in a cellar, produced in the yonder of the hills fetching a premium… Cool sounding rubbish most of the time!
As a discerning consumer, subpar conversations around wine and false endorsements have led us to dig further so we’re collectively able to indulge in an unforgettable wine drinking experience, to converse intelligently and to be better hosts. For that, let’s get the basics down on vegan wine and we’ll be consulting with the real wine experts in upcoming articles to keep us grounded!
Basics to making wine
While terroir, grape varietals, and variations in processing contribute to the uniqueness of each wine, the basics to making any wine include harvesting, crushing – pressing, fermentation, clarification, and then aging along with bottling.
What slips most people’s minds is that when making wine, fining – the removal of unwanted particles during the clarification process – often includes animal products including Gelatin, Isinglass (derived from fish bladders), Albumen, Casein. These are added to wine in order to bind and remove unwanted substances, all of which are eventually filtered out. Nothing inappropriate in the process except if you’re a staunch vegetarian or vegan reaching for a glass!
Demand of vegan wine is on the rise
From Cameron Diaz and Kylie Minogue to big retailers like Marks & Spencer whose private label offerings will be 100% vegan in 2022, brands are helping drive the vegan wine trend forward. But trend aside, there are some vineyards and vintners who are shaking up the wine industry with true innovation producing quality vegan wines – Some vintners are extending it down to veganic farming adopting animal-free processes from seed to table. While we cannot attest to the purity of veganic farming all-round, the efforts are applaudable!
Which wines are vegan friendly?
Unless it is labelled Vegan, one can’t be sure. Vegan wines are typically fined using natural substances such as limestone, clay, or charcoal instead of animal derived substances.
Natural wines, which are not fined or filtered are labeled as such. Hence, they may have a cloudy appearance due to sediments. One may infer that natural wines have gone through the bare minimum in terms of chemical/winemaking intervention.
Remember Organic wines purely refers to the way in which the grapes are grown, not the processing… so never confuse Organic with Vegan!
To add to the confusion, Biodynamic wines typically employ organic practices, as they avoid pesticides and depend on compost, rather than chemical fertilizers. The farming practices for biodynamic wines are also typically stricter than those required for official organic certification, however the distinction lies in that “Certified biodynamic wines are permitted to contain up to 100 parts per million of sulfites, far more than the 10ppm USDA or top Canadian standard for certified organic wines.” In short even though biodynamic wines have stricter farming standards than organic, a wine that is organic is not necessarily biodynamic…
Is there such a thing as clean wine?
Ah that’s marketing fluff mostly – a term not regulated by FDA and it really depends on how you interpret clean! One could say a good start is a wine with no fillers, a farming practice that uses no pesticides or chemicals, no sweeteners, no sugars, additives… a tall order for most vineyards… so let’s be practical and ask our winemakers what they mean by ‘clean’ and decide if it fits the bill.
If you find yourself sensitive to some wines, it’s not an off day! Many aren’t aware of Biogenic amines which emerge naturally during winemaking – akin to inferior winemaking, and can cause side effects such as flushing, headaches, fatigue…
Some wineries take biogenic amines seriously, ensuring strict winemaking practices to produce quality wines – biogenic amine levels may increase due to the activity of spoilage bacteria during the wine’s aging process and that can vary depending on wine varietal, and certain wine conditions such as pH, alcohol content, and sulfur dioxide levels. Ultimately, vineyards do not have to disclose biogenic amine levels but the wineries that have strict transparent winemaking practices should come up top on your list.
What to know to inform your wine purchase
Great strides are being made by well-meaning folks extending veganism to establishing vegan farming practices. Biocyclic Vegan agriculture is one such initiative that relies on purely plant-based organic farming where Biocyclic humus soil derived from high value plant based compost is used for fertilization in agriculture, horticulture or as soil substitute in urban farming.
This form of cultivation does not use anything derived from animal origin in viticulture and winemaking. So, if you’re looking to support the innovation behind wine making look for the Biocyclic Vegan Seal. This guarantees that the labelled product is truly vegan, not only in terms of its ingredients and processing, but also in terms of the way ingredients are grown.
Vegan wines to try?
The wine market is crowded, and we hope to come up with a shining list soon but until then let’s raise a glass to the two vineyards who have raised the bar and are specializing in vegan wine…
Château La Rayre in the Bergerac region, on the slopes of Monbazillac was the first biocyclic vegan winemaker in the world! The famous vintner is said to have been mastering the process for more than ten years.
Across the pond, L’Acadie Vineyards the first farm and winery in North America proudly carries the Biocyclic Vegan Quality Seal.
As often as we fuss over how wine is stored, poured, and savored we ought to try and understand the complexities of making splendid wine – let alone vegan wine – from the ground up!