Questions to Determine Whether Wine is Vegan
At Vegan Wines, we’re often asked how we determine whether our wines are vegan or not. As you probably know, we visit all of our partner wineries to speak with the owners first, asking questions, tasting, and ensuring every wine in our portfolio is not only high-quality, but cruelty-free as well. And we have very high standards. Unlike many other "vegan" companies or wine clubs, it’s important for you to know that we take into account the farming processes as well as the winemaking methods of our producers. That means the soil is a key part of the conversation. Here are a few of the important questions that we ask on our visits and some ways you can determine if your wine is vegan too!
10 Questions we ask wineries, winemakers, and vineyards to determine whether their wines are truly vegan:
1. Are your wines vegan?
This is an obvious one. But if they say no right off the bat, this saves time and you can move on to the next winery!
2. Are any animal products used in the fining of your wines? For instance, egg whites, gelatin, fish bladders, or milk proteins?
Non-vegan fining agents are common. Many times, egg whites are used in the fining process of winemaking. Some wineries may also answer, "Well, egg whites are only sometimes used for the fining – if it’s a tough harvest." This is a no for us. Not only because of the animal products, but because a manipulated wine is also likely to contain or use chemicals in the winemaking process. Many wineries we work with use no fining agents at all, which is common among the makers of natural wines these days. Gravity alone can do a pretty good job of removing the sediment in wines. Others may use bentonite, a volcanic clay, to clarify their wines if needed.
3. Are any animal products used in the soil at all? What about in the fertilization of the vineyards? For instance, cow horns stuffed with manure compost (often the case at biodynamic farms)? Fish fertilizer? Feather meal? What about animal manure from slaughterhouses? Manure from animals on the farm that are destined to be food?
Biodynamic wines are trendy right now, but the farming processes behind it often involve the burial of cow horns stuffed with manure in the fields where the wine grapes grow – it's one of the essential practices of the movement – as well as the burial of cow intestines over the winter months. However, some of today's wineries are following biodynamic methods (like the lunar calendar, sustainable practices, and barring the addition of chemicals) while simply eliminating those practices that include cow horns and/or animal intestines. That means you can now find biodynamic, vegan wines. Other vineyards feel they need to rely on animal manure and fish fertilizers for their vineyards, so make sure to ask both questions separately!
4. How do you control bees and wasps?
Many vineyards put out traps that kill bees and wasps. Some let them be, while others trap and move the nest. We want to ensure that bees are not harmed during the making of the wines that we carry.
5. Do you use biodynamic spray/preparation 500?
Not vegan! It is a spray made from cow manure buried inside a cow horn during the winter months. You can read more about this practice here
6. Do you use animals to do labor in your vineyard?
Some wineries use horses to till the soil. We try to stay away from vineyards where there might be any animal cruelty involved in the production of the wines.
7. Do the goats and/or sheep that do the grazing in your vineyards belong to a meat or wool farmer?
Many vintners use sheep, cows, and chickens to "mow" the grass between the vines with their grazing. Vegan Wines does know of some farmers that are actually protecting certain sheep from going extinct by allowing them to graze, but this is a gray area. We would never select wines made from grapes that grow on land where animals are used as food or a product like wool.
8. What do you use for cover crops?
Cover crops are commonly used on farms to prevent weeds, manage erosion, and improve soil fertility. They also control diseases and pests while promoting biodiversity. We look for the answer here to be "green manure," which usually means leftover crops from the last harvest.
9. What do you use to fertilize the soil?
We work with a lot of vineyards that use pea-proteins and mustard seeds, but many say they use no fertilizer at all and just let nature do her thing.
10. Do the wine corks you use for closure have beeswax as the bonding ingredient?
Many people aren't aware of this, but it is common for wineries to use corks that contain beeswax, which isn't vegan. Instead, many of the wineries we work with buy corks that are bonded with sugar cane.
...But what about "vegan" labels on wine?
Just because a wine isn't certified "vegan" on the bottle doesn’t mean it’s not vegan. Vegan certification is a relatively new movement, often done by nonprofits and other organizations that require an annual fee for their certifications. It hasn't yet been standardized (like the word "organic"). Many vegan wineries have simply not opted (or paid) to be certified, so you'll have to do some digging. Furthermore, just because a wine has been certified “vegan” does not mean it meets our standards here at Vegan Wines. These labels can often be misleading as many of these certifications do not take into account soil or farming practices.