Indigo takes a moment to consider the hot topic of vegan wine, starting with what makes a grape-based product non-vegan in the first place?
With the success of ‘Veganuary’ this year and a rise in vegan restaurant openings, it seems the tide is turning as consumers are increasingly thinking about what’s on their plate. And, so it seems, in their glass. No longer to be dismissed as a ‘fad’, veganism is an indication of a new way of thinking around the integrity of the food and drink we consume. Wine is no exception. But how can a wine actually be vegan? Or not vegan? It’s just grapes, right? With multiple views and an increasing number of voices joining the conversation surrounding vegan wines, we’re here to set our vinous record straight.
The vegan status of a wine is all to do with the process called ‘fining’.* This is done to remove the naturally occurring haze of tiny particles in newly made wine. These particles are harmless, consisting of bits of grape skin, spent yeast, etc. However, many consumers don’t like or trust hazy wine (reminiscent of the ‘wonky veg’ debate perhaps?) and so some winemakers take steps to remove these particles.
Fining agents that can make a wine non-vegan include gelatin (protein from pig skins or animal bones), casein (milk protein), egg albumen (chicken egg whites) or isinglass (fish bladders). Yes, you read that right – fish bladders contain collagen fibres that clump together when put in contact with wine. They bind with all the small suspended particles and sink to the bottom of the vat, so the clear wine can then be drained off. Agents like isinglass are more commonly used for whites and rosés, while egg whites are better suited for reds. Winemakers have come a long way since the days of using bull’s blood (a traditional fining agent, banned in the EU since 1997), yet animal products are still widely used.
While technically the fining agent is entirely removed from the wine by filtration afterwards, it’s possible miniscule traces could remain in the finished bottle. Winemakers are split on the need for fining: some think it strips the wine of some of its natural texture and character; for others it’s an important part of ensuring the stability of the finished wine. Regardless of what side of this fence you happen to sit on, some consumers will always value the clear and faultless appearance of a product.
Remember, organic doesn’t necessarily mean vegan (although often a sustainable approach in the vineyard goes hand in hand with low intervention in the winery). It’s a complex topic, and to the curious outsider it can add to the often seemingly opaque world of wine. At Indigo we search out producers whose philosophy is to work sustainably, with minimal intervention in the vineyard and the cellar. Almost all our wines are suitable for vegans, mostly being unfined and unfiltered, with some using a little bentonite or vegetable proteins.
Our price lists have now been updated to include vegan information for each wine. Please contact your rep for a copy of the list, or if you have any queries please contact [email protected]
*Some people argue that using animals or animal products when farming the vineyard negates a wine’s vegan status. This view rules out most biodynamically farmed wines, due to their use of preparations such as horn or silica manure, and any vineyards that traditionally use horses for ploughing. At Indigo we focus our vegan information solely on the winemaking process, but our list notes where winemakers work biodynamically.
What about beer? Our partners at Biercraft give us the lowdown on beer and veganism.
Thankfully, the vegan status of a beer is simpler than for wine! The most used fining agent is Isinglass, yet this is used less and less and is mainly found in cask ales. Many breweries are moving away from using Isinglass and consider not fining their beers at all – like Moor Beer Company from Bristol, proud to not be using any fining agents and are therefore serving naturally hazy beer – or are using synthetic agents like PVP instead. Most beers that are bottle conditioned are unfined and vegan-friendly. Like the Indigo wine selection, nearly all Biercraft’s delicious beers are vegan-friendly. Exceptions are the Hammerton Oyster Stout (oysters and their shells are infused in a mash before fermentation), Hiver Honey Beer or any beers with an addition of lactose, though there are currently none on the list.
If you’d like to hear more about any of these beers, or if you have any queries please contact [email protected]