How vegan can a wine be?
Before we answer this question, we should clarify what “vegan” actually means. Neither in Germany nor in the EU exists a uniform, statutory regulation. In 2016, the Verbraucherschutzministerkonferenz (VSMK) took up the matter and made a recommendation:
"Vegan are foods that are not products of animal origin and that have no ingredients (including additives, carriers, flavors, and enzymes) or processing aids or non-food additives that are used in the same way and for the same purpose as processing aids at all stages of production and processing that are of animal origin, have been added or used in processed or unprocessed form. "
Good. This is what it has to sound like in Germany when one sets a definition. This means that wine should be of vegetable origin and produced without adding animal products during winemaking. First of all, the wine starts in the vineyard. Grapes ripen on the vine until they are picked. The initial product remains vegetable, regardless of the cultivation by the winemakers (conventional, organic, or biodynamic). During winemaking it gets more exciting: the fermentation process does not involve any animal products. The so-called fining of the wine, in which the wine is freed from turbidity, is, however, often associated with the use of animal products. By adding gelatine, egg white, or dried fish swim bladders, suspended particles are bound and sink to the bottom. Then the wine is drawn off in a clear state and filled into the bottle.
The addition of animal products falls under technical aids that are removed again at the end of the process. It is not obligatory to label it, even if some winegrowers (see photo) do it voluntarily. If winemakers want to get a vegan wine, they have to use plant-based products at this point or completely forego fining. Settling describes the process where the wine is stored several months longer waiting for the turbidity to sink due to gravity. For the winemaker, longer downtimes also mean higher costs and the risk of having less wine on sale if the previous vintage has already been sold. Vintners who consciously refrain from using animal products, point this out and thus want to address a specific target group, using the vegan label of the European Vegetarian Union (EVO).
Ok, so is such a wine vegan?
For two reasons, a wine cannot be purely vegan if you look at the whole thing a little more far-reaching: yeasts required for fermentation are bacterial cultures, biologically speaking from the realm of fungi, according to current research, more closely related to animals than to plants. And it is inevitable that not only grapes but also insects and other small animals end up in the press when the wine is harvested. Even at farms that harvest by hand and sort the grapes manually.
Talking to the winemakers is always the best thing you can do. In this way, you can understand their philosophy and which products they really use in the cellar. Most are open to what they do and don't do. Avoiding animal products in fining is usually one of the points that are addressed without further inquiries. So talk to them instead of relying on a label that is used far too seldom anyway and thus of course also becomes a marketing tool and justification for higher prices.
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