February 18th is National Wine Day, and we’re always down for a good glass of wine. However, not just any wine will do. In fact, a lot of wine is not vegan. Did you know that many wineries sneak some pretty gross ingredients into their wine during the fertilization and fining processes of winemaking?
What’s lurking in your wine?
According to Frances Gonzalez, the founder of Vegan Wines, a plant-based wine club, and Despacito Distributors, an entirely plant-based wine distribution company, most people aren’t even aware of what non-vegan ingredients are in wine.
“We’re talking egg whites, gelatin, fish bladders, and milk proteins, all of which are used to clarify the wine,” she says. These ingredients bind to and remove unwanted wine sediments during the fining process and can also camouflage a bad harvest.
Lots of vineyards also use animal products in their fertilizers, like fish emulsion, feathers, blood, and bone meal,” says Gonzalez.
Even manure used for fertilizer can come from factory farms where the animals are fed chemicals and antibiotics, which is then transferred to the soil, and then the grapes, the wines, and finally, into the consumer’s body.
She believes that most people aren’t aware of what’s in their wine because there is no law that requires winemakers to disclose ingredients, which, aside from animal byproducts, can also include sugar, water, and even dye if the harvest was bad.
Can winemakers skip animal byproducts to make wine?
Instead of using animal byproducts, some winemakers opt to use the process of racking to remove the larger pieces of sediment from the wine, allowing the winemaker to move wine from one barrel to another using the force of gravity instead of the non-vegan process.
Others may use different types of fining agents, like bentonite (a clay) to clarify their wines, or they may use cold stabilization or filtering processes to remove sediment.
Are vegan wines better?
Gonzalez says that winemakers who use vegan practices are better able to retain the grapes’ natural character instead of stripping or masking it with harsh ingredients. In addition, vegan wines generally contain no additives like sugar, water, dye, or any of the other 300 (!!) ingredients which can be used in winemaking. She finds that those winemakers who embrace minimal intervention practices and work with nature, rather than against it, produce a superior product. So, in short: yes, vegan wines are better.
How can you tell if wine is vegan?
“There’s no way to tell except by doing your research. You can’t know what the vineyard uses to fertilize the soil or what the winery’s fining processes are unless you talk to the winemaker,” she says.
Her company, Vegan Wines, does this by visiting vineyards around the world to meet the winemakers and personally vet every wine they sell and distribute.
Apps like Barnivore only tell you if animal byproducts are used in the actual wine itself.
Discover five vegan wines you can enjoy tonight.
Photo: Vegan Wines
Diana Edelman is the founder of Vegans, Baby. She previously lived and worked in Thailand working for an elephant sanctuary and has traveled around the world speaking about the realities of elephant tourism, being a positive activist and entrepreneur at events including TBEX, SEED Food + Wine, VegFest Puerto Rico, VegFest Toronto and more. Diana is a proud partner with the James Beard Foundation and curates their Vegas Vegan Dinner series at the famous James Beard House, as well as the vegan activation, The Farm Stand, at Las Vegas’ Life Is Beautiful festival.