Why is Some Wine Not Vegan?

Many people assume that all wine is vegan since it is made from grapes, a plant-based ingredient. However, the truth is that some wines are not vegan-friendly. This may come as a surprise, but several factors contribute to the non-vegan status of certain wines. Let’s delve into the reasons behind why some wines are not considered vegan.

1. Fining Agents

One major reason behind non-vegan wines is the use of fining agents during the winemaking process. Fining agents are substances used to clarify and stabilize the wine by removing impurities, such as sediment and haze-causing proteins. Unfortunately, many fining agents are derived from animal products. Here are a few commonly used non-vegan fining agents:

  • Isinglass: A gelatinous substance obtained from fish bladders.
  • Casein: A milk protein.
  • Egg whites: Used as a traditional fining agent.
  • Gelatin: Derived from animal bones and connective tissues.

The use of these animal-derived substances in the fining process helps to clarify the wine, making it visually appealing and removing any undesirable flavors or aromas. However, vegans and vegetarians avoid wines produced with these fining agents.

2. Cross-Contamination

Even if a winemaker doesn’t intentionally use animal-derived fining agents, cross-contamination can occur during the production process. Wineries often share equipment and facilities for making different wines, including those that are vegan and non-vegan. This cross-contamination can happen when residual traces of non-vegan substances, such as gelatin or casein, contaminate wines that are otherwise free from animal products.

3. Honey and Animal Products in Sweet Wines

Some wines, particularly sweet wines like dessert wines, can contain honey or other animal-derived ingredients. Honey is often used in the fermentation process to increase the sweetness and alter the flavor profile of these wines. For vegans, the use of honey or any other animal by-products in winemaking is a reason to avoid such wines.

4. Lactic Acid Bacteria

During malolactic fermentation, lactic acid bacteria are sometimes used to convert the harsher malic acid found in grapes into softer lactic acid. Although this process is not inherently non-vegan, some strains of bacteria used in this fermentation method can be derived from dairy products, making the resulting wine unsuitable for vegans.

5. Wine Additives

Aside from fining agents, wine may contain other additives that are non-vegan. Below are a few examples:

  • Carmine: A red dye derived from crushed cochineal insects that is sometimes added to improve the color of red wines.
  • Chitosan: Derived from crustacean shells and used as a fining agent in some vegan wines but not suitable for those with shellfish allergies.
  • Albumen: Egg whites, when used directly instead of as a fining agent, may be an additive in some wines.
ChitosanCrustacean shells
AlbumenEgg whites

It’s important to note that not all wines contain these additives, but wine labeling regulations often do not require them to be listed.

In conclusion, while it’s true that grapes are vegan, the winemaking process can involve various non-vegan elements like fining agents, cross-contamination, honey, animal-derived additives, and even bacteria strains derived from animal sources. Therefore, it’s crucial for vegans to do their research or opt for clearly labeled vegan wines to ensure that their drinking choices align with their lifestyle.