A New Lees On Life
IT HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER TO MAINTAIN A PLANT-BASED LIFESTYLE, AND AS MORE AND MORE BRANDS MAKE THE EFFORT TO BECOME VEGAN-FRIENDLY, IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THE MOVEMENT MADE ITS WAY INTO THE WORLD OF WINE.
HERE, TRISTAN LOTT SPEAKS WITH KASPAR HERMANN, ONE OF ROCHFORD WINES’ TALENTED WINEMAKERS, TO DEMYSTIFY THE WINEMAKING PROCESS AND LEARN ABOUT THE MOVEMENT TOWARDS PLANT-BASED WINEMAKING AND ITS EXPANDING COMMERCIAL MARKET.
Images courtesy of Rochford Wines
The winemaking process is lengthy and often complex, but with the ever-growing demand for organic or vegan options, many consumers are educating themselves on what it means for a wine to be vegan-friendly. While the days of using oxblood in the winemaking process are, thankfully, long over, a surprising amount of animal products can be employed in the winemaking process. Read on to find out how you can identify vegan-friendly wines and how many winemakers avoid adding animal products to their wine.
FINING BY ME
For a beverage that is made up of mostly grapes and water, animal-products often play a surprisingly important role in the winemaking process. Hermann confirms that wines are not typically vegan. “They may contain traces of fining agents containing animal products,” he says. Though not necessary, fining is a useful process that dissolves any particles and proteins left in the wine after fermentation that can give young wines a cloudy appearance or sour taste. These particles will dissipate on their own over time, but fining speeds up the process.
Hermann explains that many animal-product fining agents are commonly used in a variety of ways; isinglass (fish eggs) and gelatine are often used to fine small and hard particles from white wines, while albumin protein (found in egg whites) is particularly suited to gently fining course tannins in full-bodied red wines. When the wine is siphoned away from the leftover solids – known as lees – during a process called racking, most of the fining agents should be removed. But there is still a chance that remnants of these agents will linger in the final product and, of course, it’s impossible to eliminate the fact that animal products were used to make the wine you’re drinking. A less common, but still important factor in knowing if a variety is vegan is by being aware of the bottling – beeswax is sometimes used to seal bottles alongside agglomerated corks that use glue made with dairy.
More and more plant-based fining agents are being used in and developed for the winemaking process. Vegan-friendly fining agents include bentonite clay, activated charcoal, limestone, silica gel, potato starch and pea proteins.
A LOOSE TANNIN
A lot of wine may be coincidentally vegan, as a ‘natural’ approach to winemaking allows the wine to stabilise without fining. “[Rochford’s] wines are made in a very considered way,” Hermann says. “We ferment batches in a manner that requires less amelioration later on.” By adopting this minimal intervention approach, Rochford Wines avoids having to fine at all. A large part of winemaking is knowing the earth and the terroir – being able to judge the smallest change in elevation or temperature, understanding what’s in the soil and what it means for each varietal and vintage. To maintain the unique natural character of the region, a winemaker may opt out of fining in order to ensure nothing is added to the wine that might affect the distinctive flavour of the wine. While the decision to fine, with what and how much, is usually grounded in the winemaker’s philosophy, the ‘natural’ approach to winemaking has garnered popularity in recent years. Veganism often goes hand-in-hand with an organic lifestyle, so it is only fitting that ‘natural’ winemaking almost always results in vegan-friendly vintages.
(NO MORE) WALKING ON EGGSHELLS
If you know what you’re looking for, finding vegan-friendly wines isn’t actually too difficult. Australian law requires allergens and processing aids to be listed on the bottle, so you can see if the wine may contain traces of animal-based processing agents like eggs or fish. Labelling law also restricts the language that is used so it’s immediately clear what is in the wine; wineries can’t use words like casein on the label, as the average consumer won’t know that it’s a dairy product. Many Australian wineries, like Rochford Wines, are also beginning to label their wines as vegan, making it easier than ever to spot the plant-based variety amongst the options at your local bottle shop. Unfortunately, international wines do not have the same restrictions to their labelling, so you might have to do a bit of research to find out if your favourite French red is vegan-friendly.Natural or minimal-interference wines are commonly vegan. This is true in the case of Rochford Wines, “[We] generally [make] wines in a manner that requires little or no fining, hence why most Rochford wines are vegan,” Hermann says. Most organic wines are labelled as such – making it easy for you to find the vegan option. If a wine is low-interference and contains no fining agents, you’ll likely see ‘not fined’ or ‘not filtered’ on the label.
IT’S EASY BEING GREEN
According to Hermann, Rochford Wines made their first officially vegan wine in 2016 and there was “no radical difference” in the winemaking process – in fact, it was a relatively easy transition. “If the information is available, vegan choices can be made,” Hermann says. For a winery like Rochford Wines that doesn’t rely on fining agents, eliminating animal products from the process is a happy coincidence, but for some wineries the transition can be more complicated and involves finding a plant-based fining agent that works for their wines. Luckily, knowledge of plant-based fining agents is growing every day, and more and more winemakers are becoming aware of and striving to meet the growing demand for vegan-friendly options. As we become more focused on sustainability, and as organic agriculture, natural biodynamic wines, and veganism continue to grow, it’s likely that soon we won’t be asking which wines are vegan, but which wines aren’t.