Answers to questions you might have about this part of the winemaking process
Chances are you follow this blog because you are interested in vegan products and when the topic of “vegan wine” came up, you may have asked yourself “I thought all wine was vegan?” Then later you heard that it is mainly in the fining process that animal products are used (although also in the soil), but why do we “fine” wine at all?
What is fining anyway?
Fining is a winemaking process that aims to clarify and stabilize a wine, whereas a fining agent is one of a range of special materials added to the juice to coagulate or absorb and quickly precipitate the particles (called colloids) suspended in the juice.
Fining is considered important because by encouraging these microscopic articles out of the wine, the wine is less likely to become hazy or cloudy after bottling and therefore more visually appealing. Fining also removes hydrogen sulfide and bitter flavors.
Is fining necessary?
No, not really. Most young wines, if left long enough under good conditions will eventually reach the same state of clarity as fining can achieve within months, but fining saves money for the producer, and eventually the consumer. Fining is most effective in removing molecules which include tannins, pigmented tannins, other phenolics, and heat-unstable proteins.
A wide variety of fining agents are used, ranging from egg whites, casein, fish bladders and bentonite clay deposits.
The good news is that many winemakers are dropping the use of animal-derived fining agents and using only bentonite. This is because many of the aforementioned animal-based agents are declared “allergic substances” and in the EU, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, for instance, they must be declared on the label if such a substance is above the detectable limits. It is becoming more expensive, therefore, for winemakers to use animal-based fining methods.
It’s important to note that fining agents do not change the flavor of the wine. They are merely used to improve the stability and clarity of the wine.
What vegan fining agents are commonly used?
As mentioned, bentonite, an unusual form of clay, is the most popular as it’s very effective in adsorbing certain proteins. Silica functions similarly but somewhat less effectively. Another popular vegan fining agent is carbon (charcoal), which is also effective in removing some off-odors. In the interest of vegetarians and vegans, there has now been a movement to create more non-animal-based agents. It’s now possible to obtain vegetable gelatin, and other protein fining agents derived from peas and potatoes have been developed.
Are all wines fined?
No. There is an increasing number of natural winemakers who believe in leaving the wines in the most natural state possible. They also believe that fining may remove some of the unique flavors in the wine. Natural wines are farmed organically and made without removing or adding anything, and intervention is kept to a minimum.
Some of these wines use animals in the fertilizers and other parts of growing and tending to the vines, however, so it’s always best to check with the winery. Of course, if you get your wines from Vegan Wines, you can rest comfortably knowing we’ve done all the necessary research for you and that your wine is 100% vegan ☺
We hope you found this little lesson on fining interesting – if you can think of any other topics surrounding wine and/or vegan wine, do let us know – we love to share information with you!
To sign up to receive our vegan wines made with only vegan (or zero!) fining agents, check out our wine club offerings.