When we are out and about on our tours we are often asked "is this wine vegan?"
You may think all wine is vegan as they are all made from either white or red grapes, but technically most wine is not vegan.
The Vegan diet consists of food and drink where no element is derived or contains any animal content. This includes meats, seafood or poultry but also includes honey from bees, eggs from poultry, or dairy products etc. The lifestyle of a Vegan also rejects anything made from animals like leather or feathers.
So this brings me back to wine being made just from grapes and yeast and the natural assumption that it is a Vegan product. At the end of the fermentation process of the grapes, the wine is then cleaned up, in the industry it is known as "fining the wine". This process is where egg white, fish products or milk protein is put into the wine to clarify or clean it.
As it makes its way through the wine it collects any yeast particles and it reduces any haze or bitterness that may appear in the wine. The solids (known as lees) sink to the bottom of the tank and are then drained off depending on what the winemaker is trying to achieve. Chardonnay for example is left on lees for a number of months to help create a creamy mouthfeel.
Fining the wine does not change the flavour of the wine, it just clarifies and stabilises it. Also keep in mind that only minute traces of the fining product are left in the wine and it will always be on the bottle label for allergen advice.
This raises the question "are any wines vegan?" If the winemaker uses bentonite clay, potato or pea protein for fining the wine is then Vegan, and the winemaker can also choose not to fine the wine. There are a number of winemakers now choosing to make natural wines and to farm their vineyards organically with minimal intervention.