As a vegan who enjoys both food and wine, I’ve often searched for information about pairing wine with vegan food. In my searches, however, I come across far more articles written for the purpose of informing me that not all wine is vegan. If you are not vegan or are new to veganism, you might wonder what exactly vegan wine is. So, I thought I would address that issue here before carrying on too much further with this blog.
As a vegan, I avoid animals products, including meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. As you may be aware, some winemakers clarify their wine through a process called fining. Animals products, such as egg whites, can be used as a fining agent. It is, of course, not necessary to use animal products for this purpose and a type of clay is a very common alternative. When added to the wine, the fining agent attaches itself to dead yeast cells or other particles, causing them to fall to the bottom of the barrel, leaving a clarified wine. There are no remnants in the finished product, which is one of the reasons why a winemaker does not need to label the bottles with information about fining agents even if an allergen such as egg whites is used.
But, do all vegans avoid all wines that may have been in contact with an animal product at some point? I actually don’t think so and believe that this is one area where overly strict adherence can lead to the perception that veganism is impossible or extremely difficult. As you search for vegan wines, you will learn that many wineries may use egg whites or isinglass to filter a wine of one vintage but not the next year. Or they may use a fining agent for white wines but not reds. It’s not always as easy as finding a producer or even a wine you love and sticking with it. For example, I recently researched a winery and discovered that gelatin was used in the production of whites but not reds. This does not mean it’s impossible to drink only vegan wines and plenty of vegans do it, but criticizing or worrying about vegans who fail to do so may not be the most effective use of our time as animal advocates.
In her book “Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger,” Sherry F. Colb discusses the use of bone char in the making of refined white sugar and analogizes this to the winemaking process. Many vegans chose to avoid white sugar because of the use of bone in the processing but, according to Cobb,
one might plausibly argue that the purchase of bone-char-refined sugar has no impact on the breeding and slaughter of animals, because without a market for meat, dairy, and eggs, it would no longer make economic sense to breed, feed, water, and slaughter a domesticated animal for bone char, given alternative methods of refining sugar. . . . The same set of arguments could apply to wine and beer: it is easy to find vegan versions of these products because animal products are not essential to fining or to filtering, but the consumption of non-vegan beer and wine may play no significant role in motivating the breeding, exploitation, and slaughter of animals. I know committed vegans who take differing approaches to these questions . . .
I also know vegans who take different approaches. Although all wines featured on Hummus and the House Red are vegan and I celebrate winemakers who chose to avoid the use of animal products, I agree that committed vegans can differ on this issue. Veganism is about withdrawing support from the industries that exploit animals, and when these industries are no longer profitable, their cheap byproducts will no longer be available for use in wine (or in sugar, or in car tires, etc.). It is far more important to focus on avoiding (and encouraging others to avoid by providing tasty alternatives to) meat, dairy, and eggs than it is to find all their byproducts used in society and the things we buy. Doing so is an impossible task and makes veganism seem more arduous.
If you want to find vegan wine, Barnivore.com is an online resource for finding wines that have not been produced with the use of animal products. In addition, natural wines are becoming more available and the fact that many are vegan is just one reason to begin exploring these wines. This article by Alice Feiring provides a list of natural winemakers who produce only vegan wine.