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Something to Wine About: Not All Wine is Vegan!

a close up of a bottle

February 18, 2020

If you are a vegan or are trying to embrace a more plant-based lifestyle, you’ve probably learned quickly that the things that seem animal product free sometimes aren’t, and it’s never a bad idea to do a little recon before you snack or sip.

For instance, did you know that one of the main ingredients in gummy bears is gelatin and gelatin is derived from the collagen of animal body parts? There’s plenty of sneaky examples like this out there, so make sure you’re reading your labels before you buy and asking the necessary questions when eating out.

What might also come as a surprise is that a staple favorite, filling millions of glasses around the world and dating back all the way to 7000 BC, sometimes doesn’t get the vegan stamp of approval – you guessed it, we’re talking about wine.

One of the main reasons that wine is so tricky is because we all know what goes in it— grapes! Because we all know this, it’s easy to pass it off as a safe plant-based bet, especially considering that wine bottles aren’t required to have an ingredient list. In reality, wine isn’t often a single ingredient product at the commercial scale.

a close up of a fruit

Why is this so? Let’s have a quick little wine lesson while we’re at it. Wine is born out of grape juice mingling with yeast. This pairing creates a fermentation, and the mixture will need to sit until the right level of sugars are converted into alcohol. The fermentation process can be as short as a week, but typically winemakers will continue adjusting and manipulating their wine before it hits the bottle. The bottles are then aged for months or even years before they’re sold.

While technically grapes alone have all the required elements for the winemaking process (yeast naturally occurs in grape skin), they are usually assisted by additional components to improve consistency and influence flavor. A few common extras are added sugar to boost alcohol content, sulfur dioxide to prevent oxidation, and calcium carbonate to reign in acidity.

Post-fermentation, wines will look fairly cloudy due to sediment. To combat this, the clarifiers and fining agents are introduced. This is where it gets tricky for those following a vegan lifestyle. Traditionally used clarifiers include things like isinglass (fish bladders), albumin (egg whites), casein (animal milk protein), gelatin or even plastics. Whatever is added will be filtered out before bottling, but it still renders wines made through these practices unsuitable for those following a plant-based diet.   

When looking for cruelty-free wines, the major difference between a vegan bottle and a non-vegan one really comes down to what kind of clarifiers and fining agents are used.

a screenshot of a cell phone

The upside is that a lot of wine is naturally vegan, and there are plenty of resources out there to make sure you know what you’re buying and drinking. Before you go get your next bottle or stop for a drink and aren’t sure what’s vegan approved on the menu, check out BevVeg! It’s a free app that will let you know whether or not your beer, wine or liquor is filtered through or contains any animal products. Barnivore is another great option for doing a little research— it’s an online vegan alcohol directory that covers over 47,000 products.

Of course, if you’re in the Fort Lauderdale area, you can always stop into Vegan Fine Foods and get some peace of mind that your wine is 100% animal product free. Vegan Fine Foods carries a wide variety of Vegan wines!