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Sipping Sustainability: Exploring the World of Vegan Wine
The red wine with glass from Aurora cellars at Lake Leelanau

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As more and more people embrace a plant-based lifestyle, the demand for vegan-friendly products continues to grow. For wine lovers who are also vegan, finding a wine that meets their dietary preferences can be a challenge. That’s where vegan wine comes in – but what exactly is vegan wine? Join us as we explore the delicious and eco-friendly world of vegan wine.

Vegan wine is wine made without the use of animal-derived products. Yes, wine is made from grapes but there are some winemaking methods that, surprisingly, use animal-derived products – which makes them not vegan. Traditionally, winemaking is a slow process but there is a faster process called fining that uses animal products as “processing aids”. Experts at Wine Enthusiast explain the aids are added in order to bind and remove unwanted substances, all of which are filtered out.

Even though fining can also be used to correct winemaking faults like off flavors, colors, cloudiness or to smooth tannins, it is often done to stabilize wine that has not had time to clarify itself naturally over time.

While not every winemaker uses this practice, some animal products that are used in fining can include:

    • Egg Whites – Experts say that adding natural egg whites to the barrels of red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon can help remove the harshest tannins. This practice is the simplest, most old-fashioned way of fining that is still used at many Bordeaux châteaux.
    • Casein – Used in winemaking to give white wines a brilliant clarity and remove and oxidative taint. Sometimes, skim milk is used to achieve this – like with very clear Sauvignon Blancs.
    • Gelatin – Thie protein, that is derived from animal hides and bones, can be used in both red and white wines. When gelatin is used, red wines can gain suppleness and whites can attain brighter color.
    • Isinglass – This is derived from the swim bladders of sturgeon and other fish. While the practice of using isinglass was used more in the past, it gives white wines brilliant clarity by removing any solids and excess color.
    • Chitosan – This is a carbohydrate that is derived from the shells of crustaceans. The positive ionic charge found in it is used to remove excess color and phenols from white wines.

(Fining agents sometimes use animal-based products. This is why some wines aren’t technically vegan. Infographic courtesy of Wine Folly.)

Since vegan wines wouldn’t use any of the above products, it doesn’t mean that they are unfined. There are plenty of fining agents that aren’t derived from animal products, including:

    • Poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone (PVPP) – This is a man-made plastic substance that absorbs excess phenols and colors. It is often used in rosé wines to give them their elegant pallor.
    • Bentonite – This purified clay binds protein colloids in white and rosé wines and also makes them heat-stable. Activated charcoal can also remove prominent off flavors, but can strip wine of other desirable ones.

While the fining agents are removed before the wine is bottled, the wine still isn’t considered vegan because the byproducts were used at some point in the process. Wineries aren’t required to disclose their use of them on the label, either.

When shopping for vegan wine, it’s important to look for labels that indicate that the wine is vegan or to do some research on the winery’s production methods. But, be careful. Not all vegan wines are labeled as such so it’s always good to research first.

If the wine is a certified vegan product, that means it has met certain requirements and standards set out by vegan organizations. One organization is the Vegan Society. They have a registered trademark that is used by vegan-friendly businesses to show that their products don’t contain any animal ingredients or derivatives. If you see a logo on the wine bottle that says “Vegan” in some form, then you can be sure that the wine is 100% vegan.

Since winemaking practices vary from vineyard to vineyard, the best way to find out if the wine you are interested in is vegan is to ask the person who made it directly.

At Aurora Cellars, all of our wine – with the exception of our sparkling wines – are vegan friendly. Check out our online shop or visit our tasting room to try some today!

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