When you’ve made a conscious decision to live a more plant-based life, you may also rethink what your drink. The good news is there are plenty of organic vegan-friendly wines to choose from. The bad news is they aren’t always labelled correctly. Here’s what you need to know.
Making the wine bright and clear
The part of the winemaking process where animal by-products may be used is called ‘fining’ and takes place before filtering and bottling. In conventional and organic winemaking, fining is common practice and may use either vegan-friendly products or animal-derived products for this process. However, in low (or minimal) intervention winemaking, the aim is to do as little as possible to the wine, keeping the wine natural as possible and therefore fining is avoided. This is why these wines are sometimes cloudy. Whatever the style of winemaking, to ensure wine is vegan-friendly, any additives or processing aids used in the fining process need to be free from animal by-products.
Processing aids, such as fining agents, are used to change a wine’s aroma, clarity, colour or flavour. For example, in whites, they are used to make the wine brilliantly clear and in reds, they are used to soften the bitterness associated with tannins. The fining agents bond with particles, which are then filtered out of the wine so they do not remain in the finished wine. This process is one of many in a winemaker’s toolkit, used to produce a certain style of wine or a wine that would otherwise not meet the quality standards of their brand. For large producers, including conventional or organic, the use of fining agents is one of many methods to ensure consistency year to year.
You put what in my wine?
A winemaker can choose from several different fining agents. This is the part where the wine will become wither vegan-friendly or not. The following are the most commonly used agents for winemaking.
Animal Derived fining agents
Gelatine Made from prolonged boiling of skin, cartilage, and bones from animals, this is the most aggressive of proteinaceous fining agents. It’s used for clarity, reducing bitterness, and softening both white and red wines.
Isinglass Made from fish bladder, and a form of the protein collagen, this is mainly used to clarify white wine. Used excessively it can impart a fishy flavour.
Casein A milk protein used in white wine to remove oxidative browning and bitterness.
Egg white Also called egg albumen, this is used to remove bitterness in red wine.
Vegan-friendly fining agents
Organic carbon Used to remove off odours in red wine and browning or pinking colours in white wine.
Organic bentoniteThis is a fine clay made of aluminium-silicate formed from volcanic ash. It’s used for stabilising white wine and clarifying red wine.
Synthetic PVVP Also called polyvinylpolpyrrolidone, this is a synthetic polymer used to enhance colour in red wine and remove oxidative browning or pinking I white wine. It also reduces bitterness.
Plant proteins This includes vegetable gelatine and proteins derived from peas and potatoes.
To fine or not to fine a wine?
This is the question, and the answer depends on the producer and the style of wine they are trying to achieve. A growing number of winemakers are using methods that do not use animal-based fining agents. Justin Jarrett, organic winegrower, winemaker and owner of See Saw Wines in Orange, New South Wales creates delicious tasting, environmentally friendly wines. He uses a plant-based fining agent called Fitoproteina P, a pea-based protein which he believes produces better results than animal-based fining agents.
There are also an increasing number of low-fi wines on the market. “Heroes” Vineyard in Geelong-Otway Hinterland, Victoria strives to “make wine in the vineyard”. James Thomas aims to grow his grapes that don’t need improving and won’t benefit from fining. As such, James uses strict organic practices in the vineyard and makes their wines with a hands-off approach in the cellar: unfined, unfiltered (at least for the reds) and with sulphur well below the organic threshold. he says, “Our intention is to produce wines that honestly reflect the vineyard and its terror. And for us, fining would risk clouding that direct and vivid interpretation of our soil and climate.
The fact that are all suitable for vegans is really a happy side effect of the winemaking philosophy behind our label”. “Heroes” Vineyard identifies its wines as vegan-friendly and unlike many other brands, See Saw wines includes a symbol other labels to let you know their wines are vegan-friendly.
A cool looking label but not enough consumer info
Mandatory labelling laws in Australia do not require a declaration of the type of fining agent used. The laws do however require allergens to be declared. These allergens include fining agents casein, potassium caseinate, egg white, milk and evaporated milk. So, if milk and eggs have been used, it will be stated on the label. Other allergens that must be declared include nuts and added sulphites over 10ppm.
However, many Organic and Biodynamic producers are adding a vegan-friendly symbol or wording to their labels to better communicate with consumers. There isn’t a nationally recognised symbol yet, but this is a good start and a positive sign that more producers are catering for a growing market of plant-based wine lovers. Additionally, many low intervention winemakers include the words ‘unfined’ and ‘unfiltered’ on their labels, so you can instantly recognise these as vegan-friendly.
Choose sustainable and vegan-friendly
When choosing a vegan-friendly wine, you can also keep your eyes open for producers who look after the environment, farm sustainably and avoid synthetic inputs. If you’re unsure about what wine is right for you, reputable wine stores and online retailers will have the knowledge to point you in the right direction. Now that you know the industry lingo, I hope you’ll be able to enjoy the growing range of high-quality vegan wines available in Australia. pass the vegan vino, please!.
Words written by Alison Rainey. Edited and published in Nourish magazine (July 2019)
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Read more about Justin Jarrett’s passion for sustainable winegrowing here>