The rise of natural winemaking means more accidentally vegan vintages

Vegans out for a meal pay attention to the ingredients in each dish to make sure there aren’t animal products but, until fairly recently, few thought to ask about the wine.

That’s changing as more people learn about the animal products that can be used in winemaking and seek out vegan vintages. Wine, though made from plants, is often processed using ingredients derived from animals to remove sediments and fine particles.

Winemakers use two different methods for removing sediment, filtering and fining. Filtering is simply straining the wine to catch the particles, while fining involves adding an ingredient that draws the solids to it, said Kate Jacoby, co-owner of Vedge and V Street in Philadelphia and Fancy Radish in Washington, D.C. Jacoby is a pastry chef and she also manages the restaurants’ wine and spirits programs.

Fining is often done with animal products including casein from dairy, albumin from egg whites, isinglass from fish bladders, and gelatin, which is made from boiled body parts of cows or pigs, according to the website Vegan.com.

Vedge lists about 20 wines by the glass and around 100 by the bottle, all of them vegan, and Jacoby has worked to forge relationships with distributors and small winemakers to ensure a well-rounded list of vintages that fit the bill, she said.

In the world of wine, more winemakers aren’t necessarily focused on the vegan aspect, but a growing number are opting for natural methods, which means eschewing straining and fining in favor of letting sediments separate naturally and, sometimes, accepting that there will be fine particles present, Jacoby said.

“I think the natural wine movement has been great for us, but I don’t think they [winemakers] have a vegan agenda in that choice,” Jacoby said. “It’s just a nice overlap for us.”

And increasingly, consumers who seek out vegan restaurants have also become much more aware of the issues around wine in recent years.

“When we first got our liquor license, people would say ‘What? What’s not vegan about wine? Now they’re more educated,” she said.

The rise in natural winemakers has opened new possibilities for those seeking vegan vintages. Two decades ago, the best natural wines were likely to come from France’s Loire Valley and the Piedmont region of Italy, Jacoby said.

But in the past five or 10 years, a natural winemaking niche has grown in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the Portland, Ore., region, and there’s also a growing natural wine business in the Sierra foothills in California, she said.

Any wine can be made using natural methods, but certain varietals are likely to ferment more cleanly than others, making them less likely to need fining or filtering.

“Something without a thicker grape skin, for example,” she said. “Also, if they’re fermenting using whole clusters of grapes, you have stems going in with your grapes. Any time you have the thicker skins or the whole clusters, you’re more likely to have debris or more sediments.”

Opening restaurants with husband and chef Rich Landau has offered Jacoby the chance to immerse herself in the world of vegan wines and winemaking, and to get to know the small winemakers who are using natural methods.

Consumers in a rush can seek out wines with a “V” on the label, but typically they need to do more research because most winemakers don’t highlight the vegan aspect of their products on labels or point-of-sale materials.

The website Barnivore is a resource for seeking out vegan wines. The site boasts a database of nearly 48,000 wines, beers and spirits that users can search to find information on whether the product is made without animal products.

And increasingly, social media can be a resource for connecting with small wineries, Jacoby said.

“Nowadays, especially with smaller natural winemakers, people love to have a social media presence,” she said. “You could reach out and DM and they would probably respond. That would be a great way to get your own info and also show someone who is making the wine that there’s an interest.”

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