Remember when we used to take the piss out of vegans?
“Self-righteous hippies! What the hell do they even eat? Mung beans? Fuckin’ spiralised carrots and sesame seeds?”
You can’t do that anymore. For starters, you might be talking to one. They are fuckin’ everywhere these days. And second, they are basically saving the planet one tofu stir-fry at a time while you sit there heating up the Earth with your triple cheeseburger plus bacon, egg and mayo.
But can you imagine coming home from a long hard day of fighting global warming on nothing but kale, blueberries and almond milk, only to discover your glass of fermented grape juice contains traces of fucking shellfish??
That’s right, there’s a pretty big chance your wine contains animal products, or they were at least used in the process of turning grapes into your favourite bev.
Why the fuck would there be egg white in my wine?
In winemaking, there is a whole heap of shit clouding up that grape juice. From skin, pulp and stems, to dead yeast cells (lees), to teeny tiny proteins, bacteria and tannins. Winemakers use a number of techniques to get it clear and one of those is called the fining process, where a substance called a fining agent is added. The fining agent sticks to the cloudy shit, turning smaller particles into bigger particles that drop out of the wine more quickly. Note those tiny particles will eventually drop out anyway; the fining process just speeds it up.
Traditionally, fining agents are made from animal products such as casein from milk, isinglass from fish bladders, egg albumen and gelatine. Many years ago they even used bulls blood, but these days thats a no-no.
Some people will argue that the fining agents are removed from the wine with the sediment, so how much animal product you actually consume is up for debate. This may help you sleep at night if you’re trying to be a vegan but the only wine in the house has been fined with milk, but I’m guessing it probably misses the point for the truly virtuous.
There are vegan fining agents out there, including carbon, silica gel, vegetable plaque, vegetable casein, limestone and bentonite and kaolin clays. At Dirt Candy Wine in the Hunter Valley, they use fining agents made from vegetables like potatoes and peas. Winemaker Daniel says:
“If I can make wine taste just as good AND be vegan-friendly, then why wouldn’t I? It’s not necessarily more expensive but it does reduce your options. There are less ways to tune out imbalances or mistakes, so your processes need to be spot on.”
There are also some wines that are unfined and unfiltered and so don’t use fining agents at all.
If I buy organic wine, that’ll be vegan, right?
Nope, not necessarily. Some are both, but you can have organic wine that is not vegan, and vegan wine that is not organic.
Where can I buy vegan wine?
Most bottle shops will have some vegan options, it’s just a matter of reading the label before you buy. Here are some you might like to try:
WA Cleanskin Cellars (PS if you go in-store in Doubleview or Subiaco, they will let you taste it first!)