Considering the Soil in Vegan Winemaking

by Sunny Gandara, DWS, CWE

 At Vegan Wines we are big promoters of animal-free agriculture.  Not many (if any) vegan wine certifications take the soil into account when they claim to be vegan, and this is what sets us apart from others in the industry thus far.    As often as we hear the question “but I thought all wine was vegan?” and explain animal by-products is used in the winemaking process, we are now opening up the discussion: what is in the soil of the products you eat and drink?

This is the second blog post following our 2-part series about what makes wine vegan that we also covered in our FB live Wine Wednesday video, which you can view here.

What does animal-free agriculture really mean?

It means we only support wineries whose farming methods do not use animals or animal products. Animal-free farmers and vine growers don’t keep domesticated animals, unless they are there solely as animal companions, nor do they use animal products such as farmed animal manures or animal parts (bone meal, blood meal, fish meal, feathers).  In other words, they practice veganic agriculture.

What is veganic agriculture?

It’s a way to farm that don’t use any slaughterhouse by-products or manures to grow fruits and vegetables.   Most people think about manure as not being harmful to animals because it’s a natural by-product or waste, but farmers actually buy truckloads of manure from factory farms.  By buying manure from these farms, we are indirectly supporting this industry, and the idea of doing so in any way, not to mention adding toxic waste products into the soil that will produce the wines we drink, is to us not very clean, organic or ethical.   Animal manure from these farm naturally will contain the same antibiotics, hormones and other harmful ingredients these poor animals have been injected with.

We have also seen many studies of how organic crops using factory farmed manure have been shown to absorb the toxic products used in these factory farms…. Which is ironic because people buy organic think that they are avoiding chemicals and pesticides otherwise used in mass produced products.  But because these very same organic foods and drinks are farmed with toxic manure, they are consuming that very poison…  It should be noted that it is very common for large USDA certified organic vegetable farms  (which supply most of all the organic produce we buy in grocery stores) to rely almost exclusively on slaughterhouse by- products like chicken manure, blood, bone and fishmeal to provide nutrients for their plants.  Something to think about and why we at Vegan Wines are not hung up in certifications, because there simply are too many loopholes and unclean ingredients allowed in these products.

In the same way we want to avoid wines that use egg whites, fish bladders, gelatin and whey in the fining process,  Vegan Wines feel we should also avoid products grown using manure. Whether the manure or other animal by-products will be present in the end products,  the point is we believe we should distance ourselves from any practice that uses animal products, period.

What do farmers who don’t utilize animal manure use instead?

They rely on green manure instead.

Green manure is made from plant-based sources and created by leaving uprooted or sown crop parts to wither on a field so that they serve as a mulch and soil amendment. The plants used for green manure are often cover crops grown primarily for this purpose. Typically, they are ploughed under and incorporated into the soil while green or shortly after flowering.  By tilling and ploughing the soil also gets the necessary oxygen it needs naturally.

Really, green manure just about cutting out the middle man. The “middle man” in this case is the cow, chicken, horse, pig, or whatever animal is used in animal based manure or fertilizers .   When you think of it – what is manure made from anyway but plant materials?  There is no “magic” that goes on inside the animal that makes their manure better for the soil or plants than if we used the base material. In fact, it is quite the opposite if you are using factory-farmed wastes! 2

These are some ways in how green manuring can help improve soil quality:

  • Increases organic content of soil
  • Increases nutrient availability
  • Improves the tilth of soil
  • Restricts growth of weeds
  • Helps in pest control
  • Increases biological activity in the soil.

At the risk of sounding too technical (nerd alert!), green manure acts mainly as soil-acidifying matter to decrease the alkalinity/pH of alkali soils by generating humic acid and acetic acid.

The incorporation of cover crops into the soil allows the nutrients held within the green manure to be released and made available to the succeeding crops. This results immediately from an increase in abundance of soil microorganisms from the degradation of plant material that aid in the decomposition of this fresh material. This additional decomposition also allows for the re-incorporation of nutrients that are found in the soil in a particular form such as nitrogen (N), potassium (K), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). Many wineries say they need to add certain chemicals or animal products to create this nitrogen, but that’s simply just not true, but it may be the easy way out. Microbial activity from incorporation of cover crops into the soil leads to the formation of mycelium and viscous materials which benefit the health of the soil by increasing its soil structure. 1

Some green manure crops, when allowed to flower, provide forage for pollinating insects. Green manure crops also often provide habitat for predatory beneficial insects, which reduces the need for application of insecticides where cover crops are planted.

So we can see that by using plant-based manure instead of animal-based manure, the soil is actually getting much cleaner, more natural nutrients that are more in tune with what the soil needs to begin with.

Animals are not needed to grow healthy, tasty and high quality food or wine, nature can take care of the creation of beautiful products without the destruction of our fellow animal friends or too much help from mankind.  Let’s support the wines that practice this compassionate and sustainable way of farming!

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References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_manure
  2. https://www.huguenotfarm.com/food

 

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