What makes wine “not vegan”?
We frequently get asked about which of our English wines are suitable for vegans (we have a lot!), but we also get asked what is it about wine that makes it vegan suitable or not, so we thought we’d delve into the subject of vegan wine a bit more!
On the surface, it would appear that all wines should be suitable for vegans, right? Wine doesn’t contain meat, dairy, eggs; it’s made of grapes – so shouldn’t it just be vegan suitable by default?
When wine has gone through fermentation, it can leave leftover particles in the wine such as dead yeast, which makes the wine appear cloudy or hazy. To clear the wine of these particles quickly, winemakers put the wine through a process called fining – adding a fining agent to the wine that binds leftover particles together so they can be filtered out. It’s these fining agents that tend to use animal-derived products – commonly a type of fish protein, or egg white.
We spoke to Simon from Sixteen Ridges Vineyard in Worcestershire about how he makes his wines suitable for vegans. “The vast majority of our wines aren’t fined – I like to allow the wine time to settle naturally, so we have little need to add fining agents. We do use riddling aids in our sparkling wine to help keep the yeast lees compact and to ensure it moves into the neck of the bottle easily prior to disgorging, but we ensure that we only use a vegan friendly fining agent - bentonite (a type of very fine clay). We also use bentonite if a wine is protein unstable, and likely to cause a haze in bottle. So, we use very little, and when we do, we make sure it is not from animal origins.”
Above: Simon from Sixteen Ridges Vineyard
Jonica from Fox & Fox in Sussex highlights that it’s not just the winemaking process that can make wines not suitable for vegans. Fox & Fox are registered with The Vegan Society and have meticulously gone through each stage of their production process to ensure no animal products are used. Jonica shared some detail with us - “The winemaking process starts in the vineyard, and farming methods can involve the use of synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Even UK organic farmers use bone meal, blood meal, feather meal, and liquified fish to fertilize the soil. At Fox & Fox we use natural fertilizers, either plant-based compost or lime rich soil additions like chalk or limestone.”
Their wines don’t go through a fining process at all – the wines are given time to settle naturally, eliminating the need to add fining agents to them. They also make sure they use vegan suitable sugar in the fermentation process – some sugar producers use calcium from animal bones as a settling agent, so when making vegan wine, it’s important to use vegan sugar. (We must admit, we didn’t realise sugar might not be vegan suitable until we chatted with Fox & Fox about it!)
Above: Jonica from Fox & Fox
So why make vegan wines? We asked Charlotte from Whitehall Vineyard in Wiltshire – all of Whitehall’s wines are suitable for vegans. Charlotte said “Coming from a farming background this wasn’t an obvious route for us, but it was something that my sister Madeline and I were really passionate about. We were conscious that Veganism is a huge nutritional lifestyle that many people are very passionate about and we wanted all of our wines to be accessible to everyone. Veganism links with our sustainability goals; as a business and as a family, we’re very environmentally conscious. Also, we really didn’t like the thought of there being animal products in a wine that should be made purely from grapes!”.
Fox & Fox specialise in making incredible English sparkling wines and wanted everyone to feel they could enjoy a glass of English fizz – Jonica & Gerard said “We believe in generosity and celebration so for us, making vegan wines is about respect and sharing. It’s also about honouring our environment and the creatures that inhabit it. Everyone should feel they can pour and enjoy a glass of our fizz and at the same time stay true to their own commitment (or that of their friends or family) to living a vegan life.”
With veganism becoming more popular, do we think we’ll see more vegan wines becoming available? What’s stopping winemakers from doing this? Simon from Sixteen Ridges shared his view – “To be honest, I want to make wines that are suitable for as many people as possible - It's actually very simple for us to exclude animal products in our winemaking, so why not use alternatives (or not use them at all!). I think using finings can speed things along in the winemaking, but I am surprised how many winemakers still use animal derived products when it is generally unnecessary to do so, as there are good alternatives available. Tradition and cost are factors in wine making decisions, so you may find it more difficult to find vegan friendly wines at a lower price point for instance”.
One of the big criticisms of English wine is that people feel it’s too expensive, and it’s certainly more expensive than your average supermarket bottle. English vineyards struggling to lower the cost of their wines already may feel that the additional expense of making their wines suitable for vegans would be unaffordable. Charlotte from Whitehall Vineyard is confident that the natural (vegan suitable) winemaking method is the best – “I think it is a great idea to produce vegan wines. Not only are you appealing to a wider range of people, but you are also ensuring that you’re producing a quality product. When you invest so much time into producing the best possible wine, why ruin this with animal products?”.
Above: Whitehall Vineyard - a family business
At The British Wine Cellar, we have over 40 vegan wines to choose from, across all types – whether you’re looking for a fine English sparkling wine, a dry English white wine or a fruity English red wine, we have vegan options available. We also have some vegan cases available too – they’re very popular gifts! Shop our range of vegan wines here.
A huge thank you to Sixteen Ridges, Fox & Fox and Whitehall for sharing their experience and expertise on vegan wine with us.