Okay, I gave up cheese and chicken fingers and sushi and Grandma’s cookies, and now I have to give up wine?!
I had been vegan for over a year when I found out that, oops, most wine is not vegan. I’ve been known to enjoy 1 or 2 (or 8) glasses of wine and am a certifiable wine geek. There was no way I was going to give up wine. Luckily for me (and you and animals and all humans suffering from the negative affects of animal agriculture), vegan wine exists!! And it’s our gosh darned duty as vegans to support the heck out of it (another bottle, please?).
First things first, why they heck isn’t fermented grape juice vegan when everybody knows it was vegan before it got fermented? The culprit is a process called fining. Wineries add certain compounds to wine to clarify it (fish bladders, not joking). Younger wines have all sorts of tid bits floating around, like bigger tannin and protein molecules and tartrates. These big molecules can make the wine look murky and some can also make the wine feel ‘grippy’ or more astringent when you drink it, so wine makers want to get rid of them with the fining process. Time and gravity can do this, but ain’t nobody got time for that (actually, some people do, shout out to vegan winemakers that don’t fine at all!), so winemakers slosh a bit of ‘fining agent ‘ in with all the yummy ol’ grape juice and the fining agent binds with the big undesirable particles and the whole big clump drops to the bottom and the wine is clear.
Great, fining sounds wonderful. BUT, fining agents are usually proteins (red flag). The most common is casein (milk protein, if you’ve read the China Study you’re all too familiar with casein), with runner ups including albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein), and isinglass (fish bladders, actually). So the animal proteins come in and latch on to unwanted particles and whisk them away. That means that there are almost no animal product leftovers in the wine that you drink, but they were used in the making of the wine. So, regardless of how much animal gunk got into your glass, don’t drink it!
Instead, support some badass vegan wineries. Alternatives to animal based fining agents include bentonite clay and activated charcoal (which are both miracle everything cures, seriously), or just waiting for the dang particles to fall to the bottom. Some wineries will tell you that they’re vegan or will say ‘Unfined’ on the bottle. These are safe bets. Otherwise you’ll probably have to do a little research before you hit the wine aisle (I love the wine aisle, it is second only to the bulk foods aisle on my list of favorite aisles). You can check out a few vegan wine lists online (barnivore.com has a great list that you can section off by region). Or ask at the store (almost 100% unhelpful, given that most folks think wine is hella vegan). Or sit on the floor in the wine aisle and read all the wine labels and sob at the lack of information (my preferred method).
So, the conclusion of this emotional roller coaster? Drink more wine so you can support vegan wineries (I think I’m single handedly keeping a few in business).