Many Wines Use Animal Products During the Fining Process—But Not All
I recently learned that the wine industry uses isinglass (which is derived from fish bladders), gelatin (which is boiled animal skin, tendons and ligaments) and egg whites in its “fining” process. The fining process removes the cloudiness and skin and seed particles of a young wine, giving us the clear, more appealing version we typically see bottled. This made me wonder: if I buy wines from vineyards that use animal-derived substances to fine their grapes, am I in turn supporting the polluting factory farms and environmentally negligent overfishing practices I am so very much against? I can only assume major wine companies are not spending top dollar on pastured egg whites or bladders from sustainably caught fish simply to fine wines.
Luckily, a small amount of internet sleuthing led me to vineyards that choose not to use animal-based fining methods, and though very few wines advertise themselves as vegan or vegetarian-friendly, they do exist. I was also relieved to find there are several sites on the web, like Barnivore.com, that provide extensive lists of vegan and non-vegan wines. Vineyards that choose not to use animal-based fining agents will often fine their wines with mineral alternatives like carbon or bentonite, a type of clay.
I spoke with Paul Frey at Frey Vineyards, an organic winery in Mendocino County, California that claimed on their website to not use any “chemicals, preservatives or animal based fining agents.” Paul explained that bentonite is required to keep unstable proteins specific to white wine from making your chardonnay chunky on a hot summer day, but the use of any fining agents in red wines can be avoided “without any problem.” He also forwarded me this rather frightening list of “approved wine additives.”
I went out later that night and bought a bottle of Frey Vineyard’s Red Zinfandel and there was nothing weird or medieval about it—it tasted simply like a good red zin.
Vegetarian or vegan wines are often also organic, so there are no pesticides and frequently no sulfites. Additionally, organically grown grapes tend to be of a higher quality, offering more complexity and flavor as well as antioxidants and nutrients.
Cheers to that!