Written by Geena Whiting.
221B Baker Street, sitting in my armchair reading the newspaper with a Sherlock Holmes frame of mind, I cannot help but notice the front page title screaming at me: VEGAN WINE: THE NEXT BIG THING?? The detective in me is intrigued, surely all wine is vegan? Or wait, is any wine vegan? Come with me my dear Watson we have a case to solve.
To some a vegan is a somewhat mystical creature, a fully functioning human being that can survive without bacon, eggs or milk. The internet defines veganism as the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. In layman’s terms this means that anything made from or produced by an animal is a no go.
Our first suspect on the case: the yeast. Is this living organism the reason why wine cannot be considered vegan friendly?
In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about Jerry the yeast and his awesome journey to making a great wine. He was very sweetly anthropomorphized however the question needs to be asked is yeast a living creature? The dictionary defines being alive as the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction and the power of adaption to the environment through changes originating internally.
Yeast is alive, however is it an animal? The Dictionary defines an animal as a living organism belonging to the kingdom Animalia that possesses several characteristics that set them apart from other living things such as: being eukaryotic (Having a membrane bound nucleus), being heterotrophic (relying on other organisms for nutrients), lacking a cell wall, being motile and having special sensory organs for recognizing stimuli and adapting to the environment.
Yeast are in the fungi kingdom and are eukaryotic, single celled micro-organisms, chemoorganotrophs as they use organic compounds for a nutritive source and do not need UV light to grow. They also have a cell wall which eliminates them from the animal kingdom. Therefore although yeast is alive it is not an animal and is thus vegan friendly.
If it’s not the yeast that could potentially make wine non-vegan friendly then what makes some wines vegan friendly and other wines not?
Hitting a wall in our investigation I decided to go through the case files – the wine making process again – there has to be something, and then it hit me like a full bodied Shiraz:
It’s elementary my dear Watson it is the Fining agents.
Fining agents are substances added to wine with the purpose to soften the astringency or bitterness, remove protein hazes and reduce colour. The fining agent reacts with the wine component and precipitates out forming a layer at the bottom of the tank/bottle/glass that is separate to the wine.
Common fining agents include gelatine, isinglass, egg white, milk, casein, PVPP and bentonite.
For colour removal the most common fining agents used are carbon, gelatine and casein. The most efficient fining agent for tannin removal is gelatine and for clarity and stability the most efficient one is bentonite.
From the list above only three out of the seven common fining agents are considered vegan friendly, not all farms use vegan friendly fining agents.
The case seemed to be solved however there was one loose end that needed to be tied up. In our investigation I came across an interesting vegan friendly fining agent: Vegecoll®.
Vegecoll® is an organic fining agent that is vegan friendly, it can be used as an alternative to gelatine and egg white. It is a negative protein that is derived from potatoes. It is used for the stabilisation of colour and tannin removal. A promising substitute as a fining agent, but after asking around, it seems opinions vary from “will never touch the stuff” to “will never use old methods again”. To this detective it seems to be a love it or leave it scenario.
From my investigations and our case work it can be determined that wines using vegan friendly fining agents can be classified as vegan friendly products. Most wine farms don’t even bother to label their wines as vegan friendly because it seems obvious, however with the younger generation of wine drinkers becoming more aware of environmental issues and following a vegan life style more and more labels are showing “vegan friendly”. Do not fret if your favourite drop doesn’t display this label, a quick google of the A number on the back of the bottle should tell you all you need to know.
The case is closed for now Watson, but there have been rumblings of green and blue wines and Koshure wines making an appearance. We have only scratched the surface of the mysteries in the bottle.