Omnivores, not to mention vegans, may be shocked--even horrified--to realize that animal byproducts can be found in the most unlikely foods and beverage. Such is the case for wines. Care for some fish guts or cow connective tissue in your wine? The process of fining conventional or organic wine usually involves adding a tiny amount of animal byproducts, including sturgeon bladder, egg albumin, gelatin or casein to the wine. This method makes the remnants of the wine making process (bits of grape skin, seeds or stems) settle at the bottom of the barrel. Fining, according to wine makers, also makes wine have a smoother "mouth feel."
Fortunately, though in the very minority, there are a few wineries that make vegan wines (free of animal ingredients) for those who are pure vegans or simply prefer to leave the fish guts out of their wine. Vegan-friendly wineries simply skip the fining process or employ other animal-free alternatives.
The bottom line is that like all everything else, it’s important to be an educated consumer to make sure that you’re getting what you really want. Always read labels and research manufacturers before you buy anything. And remember that organic doesn’t mean vegan and that goes for not only wine but also beer and other alcohol. There are plenty of resources in the Internet. Do your homework.
Here are examples of vegan wines:
Domaine Carneros makes a sparkling organic wine. They use a fining agent called Clarifiant S, a preparation of sodium bentonite, which is a clay-based product that's free of animal byproducts. (Brut sparkling wine, $26; Brut Rose, $36; Blanc de Blancs $85) All these bubbly wines are vegan and made using organic grapes.
Aum Cellars make their reds completely vegan. They’re also organic and biodynamic. (St. Helena Cabernet, $37)
Girasole Vineyards make their wines with organically grown grapes and processed using sustainable, animal-free processes. (Girasole Vineyards Pinot Noir, $16; Girasole Vineyards Chardonnay, $13)
Frey Vineyards claims to be the first biodynamic vineyard in the U.S. (Organic Merlot, $27; Organic Petite Sirah, $13.50)