Winemakers Tap Unexpected Ingredients to Make Vegan Wine

Emilie Zanger

For vegan wine lovers, the need for vigilance extends all the way to the glass. It’s not well-known outside the wine community that animal byproducts are common in winemaking, particularly during a process called “fining.” During this step, proteins, tannins and phenols are removed through precipitation in order to enhance clarity, smooth out flavor and prevent oxidation. Traditionally, winemakers have used “fining agents”—substances such as casein (milk protein), albumen (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein), and isinglass (fish swim bladder protein)—to attract and isolate these natural impurities, speeding up the removal process. However, this practice renders many wines off-limits for strict vegans—and in some cases, even vegetarians.

Luckily, there are animal-free alternatives. Winemakers have had success using pea protein, bentonite clay, activated charcoal and even a type of plastic called polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) to fine their wines, with similar results.

As well, the move toward natural winemaking methods is good news for vegan vinophiles. According to winemaker Paul Frey of biodynamic and vegan-friendly Frey Vineyards, techniques such as longer on-vine ripening, gentler pressing and stirring the lees (dead yeast) from the bottom of the barrel (a technique known as bâtonnage) can all help achieve the same flavor, clarity and stability results as fining.“It’s not necessary in the processing of the wine to use animal products,” says Frey, who has largely moved away from the use of fining agents in his wines. “In general, the trend in food and wine is the least amount of manipulation or processing possible. Whenever you can do that by changing your processing methods, that’s important.”

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