My mom was the one who first broke it to me that my beloved wine was not 100% vegetarian. I was pretty devastated about it initially, but decided that the best way to deal with this new information I had received was to stick my head in the sand and keep drinking. The thought of analyzing which personal care products were free from animal-testing, which ingredients in my food were vegetarian, and now which wine was safe for me to drink… was just too much to bear. As they say, ignorance is bliss, and I can assure you that it was. Until now. Luckily, I couldn’t have found a better time to pull my head out of the sand concerning vegetarian/vegan wines. And contrary to popular belief, knowledge is bliss. More than ever, wineries are recognizing the need to address society’s rapidly growing segment of vegans and vegetarians, and their drinking habits. Cheers to that!
Most vegans/vegetarians have developed their own personal set of guidelines to follow. For example, some vegans eat honey and some don’t. Some vegetarians eat fish and some don’t. I was always one of those vegetarians who drank wine and just assumed that at some point down the line, a pork chop had been dropped in my beverage and I just had to deal with it. Seriously, though, as I come to find out now, it had been gelatin made from hooves that had likely been dropped in my beverage.
This all begs the question: How on earth are animal bi-products utilized in wine? Surely the thought of meat in your chardonnay is gross to carnivores as well? In the Dark Ages, they had something called Cock Ale. It was brewed with a poor old cock. True story. But that’s why those days are referred to as the DARK ages. Now, let us toast the Golden Age of light that is the end of 2012 with a glass of vegan wine! I’m happy to report that it is much more accessible than one might think.
Wine is refined by drawing out the positively-charged impurities with a negatively-charged substance like egg whites, yeast, tannin, gelatin, clay such as bentonite, and shells. Unfortunately, the labels do not disclose how exactly each wine is refined, but if they did, many would be classified as vegan without even trying. Tannin comes from fruit–it’s in the stem, skin and seeds of grapes. Yeast of course is vegan. And bentonite is a type of clay. Like so many other processes in our society, it is actually unnecessary to utilize animal bi-products at all during the fining process. It is simply tradition, preference and effectiveness–especially in red wines–that perpetuate its use.
When I first started researching this story, I visited an upscale wine and spirits shop, Hennessey Wine & Liquor in Washingtonville, NY, which has a designated “organic” section in the store. I perused the selection and found several labels that wore a vegan friendly logo. But they were all made in California. There was no local vegan wine to be found. I scoured the bottle labels hoping for some information hidden in the text that would explain the specifics of the winery’s refinement process… but nothing. And so it is here that I would like to propose to any winemakers reading this article that you should absolutely take advantage of this burgeoning market for vegan wine. There is no need to pay the government a fee for the right to call your wine “vegan friendly” when you need only state on your label that it is made with vegan processes. It’s as simple as that!
I live in New York’s Hudson Valley region. We have the Shawangunk Wine Trail here, comprised of 12 stand-up wineries dotting the coast of the Hudson Valley River. The trail starts one hour north of New York City and ends at the base of the Catskill Mountains. I contacted each of those wineries and found several that were proud to make vegan wine. What’s interesting is that each of these wineries had a family member, employee or close friend that had a hand in their knowledge of vegan wines. Unbelievably, there was one winery that didn’t understand what a vegetarian was, let alone a vegan. The man I spoke with pretty much hung up on me when I started asking questions, but not before insinuating that I was some crazy religious freak.
Almost every winery does in fact make vegan wine, and they are usually the whites rather than the reds. Procuring this information is all a matter of speaking to an informed staff member who is knowledgeable enough to convey this information to you. Below I have listed the self-admitted vegan-friendly wineries in New York’s Hudson Valley, all of which can be found on Shawangunk Wine Trail But as I said, almost every winery along the trail does make at least one vegan wine.
As of right now, their vegan wine list is all of the reds, and the whites from the Reserve Chardonnay, Traminitte, Awosting White and the Riesling. This next year’s vintage will be much more vegan friendly as they’ve been using bentonite and agar agar for filtration. An animal-friendly winery, their most recent fundraiser benefited Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Purchase wines on their website at White Cliff Wine.
Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery:
They make wine, hard cider and hard spirits. Again, not all of their wine is vegan, but a large portion of it is. Visit, call or e-mail for a listing. Their wine can be purchased in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and on their website at Warwick Valley Winery.
Robibero Family Vineyards:
All though not labeled vegan friendly, 100% of their wines are vegan because they use strictly bentonite in the fining process. Purchase them online at Robibero Family Vineyards.
This winery is unique on the east coast. It is 100% vegan, environmentally friendly and employs completely natural processes. They use a groundbreaking gravity-fed system over traditional winemaking methods, which they refer to as “slow wine.” Because there are no fining agents or sulfites added, the wine cannot be shipped. Because they are solar powered, they have an extremely low carbon footprint. Visit their website at Stoutridge Vineyards for more information on their wines.
Here’s a unique twist for your favorite sparkling white wine.
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup pansy petals
Remove all traces of green from petals and place in food processor. Adding 1/3 cup sugar, grind pansies into sugar by pulsing slowly. Then process on high for 30 seconds. Combine remainder of sugar, mixture from food processor and water in sauce pan. Bring to boil. Stir and allow to simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Remove from heat and store, adding a splash of vodka to preserve.