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Monday 27 June 2016

Plenty of options for vegan wine drinkers

A great many Australians grew up eating meat, wearing fur and leather, and going to circuses and zoos for entertainment.

But times change, and many people now want to know exactly what they are eating and drinking (or wearing). And what to avoid.

Before we became more aware of own bodies, and animal welfare, it probably wouldn't have occurred to us that wines could not be vegan friendly. Wine is just alcoholic grape juice, after all.

Yalumba winemaker Louisa Rose
But the fact is that winemakers may include animal ingredients in their products directly, or they might use them in the fining and filtration processes.

When filtering drinks prior to bottling, companies can use products like isinglass (from a fish bladder), casein from milk protein, gelatin, egg whites, and sea shells, among other items. These products are used to find any impurities and filter them out.

Put simply, fining removes the “rough edges” derived from grape skins and seeds during the wine-making process.

How this is achieved can be a major concern to people with food allergies, or those on strict vegetarian or vegan diets.

But there are many animal-free alternatives in use and several wineries, cider makers and others are now branding their products “vegan friendly” so that vegans can be sure they are not absorbing anything inadvertently.

Look out for Vegan Friendly stickers or statements on the labels of some of Australia's leading wine producers like Yalumba, Cullen and Heartland.

We've been making vegan-friendly wines for a long time,” says Vanya Cullen, chief winemaker at Cullen Wines in Margaret River, Western Australia. “Our vegan wines come from being biodynamic, and certified biodynamic, and then going to a place of even greater purity, but adding nothing.

Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines
Nothing added, or taken away, just grapes going to wine – and a better wine. It's a bit like natural wine. I believe our wines are natural as well as vegan because of this purity in wine growing.

Quality sustainably with integrity is our philosophy and being vegan and natural are outcomes not intended but nevertheless outcomes of this philosophy – and that's great, isn't it?”

Such is the growing demand for vegan-friendly products that some of the great names of Champagne have made it known that their luxury bubbles are made without the use of any animal products.

The fining removes solid particles from wine, creating a stable, clear and pleasant-looking product instead of a cloudy-looking drink – this is ultra-important for the image-conscious Champenoise.

Dom PĂ©rignon, Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck, Taittinger and Duval-Leroy are among the Champagne producers to trumpet the fact that their wines are vegan friendly. (Duval-Leroy relies on natural settling over a long period of time, others are fined using products such as bentonite, a powdered clay).

We do the fining naturally,” says Julien Duval-Leroy, who runs his family's business. “We don’t use anything – not gelatin or egg whites or casein – just time. But to become 100% vegan, we needed 20 years’ experience at natural clarification.”

If you are concerned about what fining agents are used in your wines or bubblies, look out for label information. Many winery websites also list technical details for their various wines.

At Yalumba, based in the Eden Valley of South Australia, all wines, bottled and in box, produced since 2012 are guaranteed by the company to be 100% vegan friendly, a move that came from the desire to make wines that differentiate Yalumba from rival companies.

We strive to make wines that speak and taste of provenance and natural appellation,” said Yalumba chief winemaker Louisa Rose.

The decision to move away from using animal products such as gelatin, milk, and eggs in the fining of our wines was to avoid their tendency to strip away the optimum fruit flavours and textures we work so hard to gain in the vineyard.

We believe this decision is reflective of Yalumba's commitment to a sustainable environment. We want to do the right thing and work with nature.”

Yalumba uses the modern technology of cross-flow filters to clean-up its wines.

At Heartland Wines, based in Langhorne Creek, South Australia, winemaker Ben Glaetzer is succinct: “We don’t use any fining agents so we are certainly considered vegan-friendly,” he says.
Winemaker Ben Glaetzer
Let's be honest. We don’t go out of our way to be vegan friendly. The simple fact of the matter is we make balanced wines that with the benefit of racking, don’t need to be fined using gelatine or albumin or anything else that vegans may object to. So we are vegan friendly by default.”

Surprisingly, not all organic and biodynamic wines are necessarily vegan-friendly, some still use milk as a fining agent.

On the website, potential wine buyers can filter the wines on offer to see which are vegan-friendly, and these include Angove Organic range, along with wines from organic producers Battle of Bosworth, Spring Seed and Gemtree from McLaren Vale in South Australia as well as wines from Rosnay at Canowindra in Central Western New South Wales and Temple Bruer, which sources from several different regions of South Australia. 

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Natural Vegan, a publication devoted to vegan lifestyles. 

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