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What's the Skinny on Vegan Wine?

I once had someone joke to me about how vegan wine, "It's not like there's meat in the wine!" Ha ha. Actually, in some ways, in many wines, there is. They may be very tiny particles, but when a wine is filtered through an animal product, there kind of is meat in the wine. 

The cool thing is that with the rise of veganism and the interest in avoiding animal products, there's a whole new niche of biodynamic and organic wines, as well as vegan ones. 

Many of the old school concepts on how to finish wine have been modified with the ages, with the same delicious results. 

So what makes some wines un-vegan?

The most common animal products in regular wines are:

  • casein- the animal protein in dairy products
  • albumin- the protein in eggs
  • chitosan- carb from crab, shrimp, and crustacean shells
  • egg whites
  • isinglass- gelatin from fish bladders (esp. sturgeon)
  • gelatin- protein from animal skin, bone, and cartilage
  • dried blood powder (mostly in older wines)
Vegan wine

I remember the first time I learned that jello came from animal bones and how I was such a horrified little girl. That was one of those first realizations about how we ate all these animals we read about in storybooks, and it began my journey to veganism.

The purpose of these animal ingredients is often to help clarify, filter, refine, and generally produce wines and beers. The end result is only a very small amount of animal products in regular wines, but strict vegans care about how food products are processed.

For strict vegetarians and vegans, the idea of using an animal in order to produce something for a human to eat or drink is ethically wrong and disgusting. We don't think that one being is more important than any other, and when there are other options and ways around using animal products, there doesn't seem to be any reason not to use them.

Luckily, there are options for clarifying and refining wines that are totally vegan. Instead of the animal ingredients, vegan vinters use bentonite clay to refine their wines.

Vegan wines are no longer impossible to find, but they are still not well labeled. Because the refining ingredients aren't actually in the wine, it isn't required that they are listed on the bottle.

The best way to figure out how the wines are produced is to ask the wine maker. Now, the average person doesn't have access to wine makers, but many wine stores keep track of which wines are vegetarian-friendly.

My favorite guide to vegan-friendly wines is from Barnivore. They even have an app you can download to take to the wine store or dinner to make it easier to find vegan wines. If you don't have a smartphone, you can print out their list instead.

As an added note, a vegan-friendly wine that is not on the above list is Aum Cellars, which has both reds and whites. 

While searching for vegan wines does require you to take an extra step, it's not much harder than reading the ingredients on the label when you buy boxed food. Once it becomes part of your routine, it's easy. 

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