Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vegan wine: For Vegans only

Recently I've been drinking a lot of natural wines: wines made from biodynamic or organically grown grapes, fermented with natural yeast. I like them because they taste pure and wild, like true products of their terroir.

I never gave any thought to vegan wines until I read this excellent article by Katherine Cole in The Oregonian.

I'll summarize in a way Cole does not. "Vegan," for wine, says nothing about how the grapes are grown, which is the most important aspect of wine. It says nothing about the key decisions in winemaking -- type of yeast, barrels or tanks, time spent on the lees.

"Vegan" applies only to an aspect of winemaking so unimportant that it's optional -- "fining," in which some sort of protein is added to the wine to precipitate out particles that can make it cloudy.

Personally I like wine unfiltered and unfined, which would be vegan by definition. But most commercial wines are fined, often with egg whites. This adds no flavor; if anything, it removes flavors (particles do have flavor). It's not a nefarious new technology: the Romans fined their wines. I suspect few Romans were vegan.

The point is, it's really easy for an industrial wine to be vegan. Grapes can be grown on a factory farm anywhere, with the vines irrigated and fertilized and dusted with all manner of herbicides. The grapes can be harvested by machine and fermented in giant steel tanks. As long as the wine is fined with algae extract or bentonite instead of egg whites, it's vegan. Whoopee!

There's no reason to be against vegan wines; as I said, I prefer my wine unfined anyway. But just because a wine is vegan is no reason to give it any extra credit at all -- unless you're vegan. So you vegan folks just enjoy those wines; I'm going to leave off now because it's time for dinner, and we're having salmon and Pinot Noir. I can almost hear the fish crying.

8 comments:

Cara said...

This was a great post. Vegan wine, really? It never really occurred to me that the fining process could be offensive to some, but the egg white thing makes sense, it would offend a vegan. I'm a proud omnivore, though I do care deeply about sustainable meats and fish, and finding affordable options.

Ultimately this post will give me a new avenue to discuss being vegan with friends, but I'll have to resist using vegan wine as a vehicle for saying cheese that's not dairy is just plain wrong.

W. Blake Gray said...

Thanks, Cara. I'm with you on cheese: If it's vegan, it's simply not cheese.

I didn't mention this in the post, but yeasts are tiny organisms and millions of them give their lives to make wine. So religious vegans probably shouldn't drink wine at all.

Sara said...

I realize this entry is old, but it's one of the first google results on vegan wine. I have to say, I think you're missing the point. Nobody is saying that whether or not a wine is vegan has any affect on taste. The concern is that vegans avoid animal products, and some wine is produced with animal products.

Nobody is telling you to care if you're not a vegan.

W. Blake Gray said...

Sara: I believe you missed the headline.

richard said...

If someone farms biodynamically and uses preparation 502 (yarrow hung in a stags bladder), would that wine be suitable for vegans? If biodyns and vegans were to fight, who would win? Who would care? Can Vegans eat bugs? Because I've crushed a lot of earwigs, white spiders and other insects while de-stemming my vines.

W. Blake Gray said...

All good questions.

1) Depends on how rigorous the certification process is. But no, that wine SHOULD not be considered vegan, which is interesting because it should make careful vegans worry about biodynamic wines.

2) Vegans don't get enough protein. In any kind of physical combat, I'm betting on the biodynamic crowd.

3) Vegans would care. And come on, wouldn't you pay to see it?

4) Vegans most definitely should not eat bugs, which means they should never ride bicycles in the tropics without a facemask.

I guess it depends on the vegan how much they care about killing bugs in the service of agriculture. I'll bet there's not a farm in the US that doesn't purposely kill some bugs.

Lance said...

Another missed point here particularly for vegans, is that the most frequently used fining in white wines is isinglass which is made from the ground up swim bladders of fish. As the saying on the back label goes - 'traces may remain'.

Lance said...

Another missed point here particularly for vegans, is that the most frequently used fining in white wines is isinglass which is made from the ground up swim bladders of fish. As the saying on the back label goes - 'traces may remain'.