Why is All Wine Not Vegan? Fish Bladder, Casein, Gelatin to Name a Few!


By Guest Blogger:

Peter Wilke

Certified Sommelier

At its core, winemaking is a fairly easy, self-explanatory, and animal-friendly process. You take some grapes, mash them up, let the juice sit for a little over a week and you have successfully made wine. Ambient yeast floating through the air and sitting on the grapes themselves will ferment the sugars in the juice into alcohol, releasing carbon dioxide in the process. Unfortunately, the wine you just made will likely taste fairly horrible and that is where the finesse of winemaking comes into play.

Finding Clarity

There are many techniques that winemakers employ to ensure that their wines will be delicious, often years after they have been bottled. While most of these stylistic choices are vegan-friendly, achieving clarity in the glass has driven many winemakers to utilize a variety of animal products to remove sediment from their wines. Small particles find their way into fermentation tanks, either coming in on the grapes themselves, or by being released during fermentation. Over time, many of these particles will settle to the bottom of the barrel or tank. At this point, the clear, quality wine can be separated from the sediment through a process known as racking. Bottled under these conditions, the wine will have a slight haze and could be labeled unfined and unfiltered.

Getting your wine perfectly clear requires a few extra steps in the winemaking process. Fining is the act of clarifying wine and involves fining agents, usually a mineral or protein to stimulate the process. Common fining agents include isinglass (fish bladder), gelatin (animal protein), albumin (egg whites), and casein (milk protein). These various agents attract different types of particles floating in the wine, creating larger chunks of sediment which will precipitate to the bottom of the barrel or tank.

No Hope for Vegan Wine Lovers?

While it is abundantly clear that none of the fining agents listed above are animal friendly, there are other ways to clarify wine. Filtration is exactly what it sounds like and is an effective way to produce sediment-free wine. By running the wine through a fine screen, most particles are removed and a clear product is achieved. Unfortunately, filtration also tends to strip the wine of some of its flavor, leading many winemakers to avoid the process with the goal of making a vibrant, complex wine.

Many producers have adopted practices in the cellar which result in a wine that is vegan-friendly, perfectly clear, and incredibly flavorful. As the vegan and vegetarian market has expanded, winemakers have broadened their fining agents to include items which aren’t derived from animals. Bentonite (clay), limestone, silica gel, activated charcoal, and plant casein are all commonly utilized today to clarify wines. Finding those wines, however, can be a bit tricky. Though some effort has been put forth to make it so, most wines do not have a list of ingredient on the label.

Discovering Vegan Wine

Fining is the number one reason for a bottle of wine not to be considered vegan. Because of this, if a wine is labeled as unfined there is a great chance that it has been produced without the use of animal products. Another great option for avoiding animal products in wine is to go for the kosher option. By definition, kosher wines are always vegan and are a great choice when poking around the shelves. Kosher wines, which haven’t always had the best reputation for quality, have recently gained greater acclaim.

The best option is, of course, to do your own research on vegan producers. There are many reasons for wineries to pursue vegan wine production and the number of wines made that are friendly to vegans increases every year. One thing to look out for in your favorite vegan wine is vintage changes. Just because a wine is animal-friendly one year does not mean that it will be the next. Changes in ownership and winemaker can make a big difference in what is used to fine wine and define ultimate winemaking style.

While not all of their wines are 100% vegan, some producers making quality, animal friendly wines include:

  • A Gust of Sun - New York

  • Abacela - Oregon

  • Adair Vineyards - New York

  • Banfi - Italy

  • Bel Lago - Michigan

  • Bouvet - France

  • Calamus - Canada

  • De Bortoli - Australia

  • Engracia - Spain

  • Garnet Vineyards - California

  • Heggies Vineyards - Australia

  • Josh Cellars - Connecticut

  • Kalala - Canada

  • Living Roots - New York/Australia

  • MacPhail - California

  • Nicolas Feuillatte - France

  • Peter Michael - California

  • Quinta das Arcas - Portugal

  • Quivira - California

  • Red Truck - California

  • Silver Sage - Canada

  • Ulster Park - Australia

  • Veuve Clicquot - France

Natural, Sustainable, and Organic Wines

There are many theories surrounding the growth of quality wine grapes. Many wineries and vineyards are working diligently to create sustainable growth, both in terms of how they farm, and in terms of economics. As it applies to vegan-friendly wines, it is worth taking note of how various viticultural and winemaking practices utilize animal products in wine production.

Natural wines are a great option when pursuing a animal-friendly beverage. Natural wines are exactly what they sound like - they are made naturally. No additives are used in production which means that they don’t use any fining agents. The natural wine movement has been gaining momentum over the last decade and is to continuing to grow. The only worry when purchasing a natural wine is that there is no regulation for the term, so a few wineries have labeled their bottles “natural” when it is not necessarily true.

Sustainable and organic wines should not be assumed to be vegan. It is relatively rare to see the words “Sustainable Farmed” on a label, and the term relates to the farming and economic practices in the vineyard. Sustainable vineyards are regulated to a degree, but the winemaking process is left relatively untouched in the certification.

The organic certification does not limit fining agents beyond the need for them to be produced organically. While this guarantees that the animals used to produce various fining agents have been treated well, it does not limit what can be used to fine wine. Though organic producers are not required to fine their wine in a vegan-friendly way, many have embraced the concept as an extension of their wine program.

Finding a great vegan wine can be difficult, but more and more wineries have transformed their fining practices so that everybody can have a taste. The push for change in how wines are labeled is continuously growing, so there is hope that finding vegan wines will be easier in the future. Furthermore, many producers have begun labeling their wines as vegan, making it easier for consumers to find the animal-friendly bottles that they are looking for.