What consititutes a vegetarian wine?

Eenzaamheid Shiraz is bottled unfined

Over the past few years we have seen an increased number of inquiries as to whether we produce vegetarian wines or vegan wines. Some would find this a strange question as we often assume that wine is simply made from grape juice, be it anything from Sauvignon Blanc to Shiraz. But during the production of wine, there are a number of steps that the juice goes through and some of these include additions which may not be suitable for vegetarian wine drinkers.

Fine wine unfined?

The key aspect of the winemaking process that is of interest to vegan or vegetarian wine lovers is that of fining. When wine has completed its fermentation it is usually allowed to settle in a tank or barrel. There are many particles and protein molecules that are in suspension in the wine at this time, from the grapes themselves as well as from the yeast used for fermentation. Fining is a simple process which involves the winemaker adding something to the wine which attracts these particles, causing them to group together and settle to the bottom of the tank. These fining agents are then removed from the wine along with the sediment. This is achieved by racking – where the clear wine is drawn off from the tank or barrel, as well as through filtering.

Fining is not a necessary process in terms of the quality of the wine, and many winemakers will tell you that unfined wines often have more character. There are a number of wines that are bottled without fining. Wines in our Fairview limited release range, such as The Beacon Shiraz or Primo Pinotage,are not fined. So why not simply leave all wines unfined? This practice of bottling wine without fining does take place with some higher end red wines but is almost unheard of when it comes to white wine. The reason for this is very simple – unfined white wine will be very slightly cloudy and will not have that vibrant clarity that consumers expect to see in their glass.

So where does fining ruffle vegan feathers? Well historically, many fining agents have been animal products or derived from animal products. Centuries ago the blood of oxen was even used for fining, but this rather horrible sounding practice has all but disappeared. The more common animal-linked fining agents used today are albumen, from egg whites; Casein, a milk protein; gelatine, from animal skin and tissues; or isinglass, from the bladder of the sturgeon fish.

These may sound like odd things to find in a wine cellar, but as I mentioned above, these agents are added to the wine and then removed again, so should not be considered as an ‘ingredient’. However the contact with the fining agents and possible trace remainder in the wine is understandably a concern to some vegetarians and vegans when it comes to selecting their wines.

At Fairview, we use bentonite as the fining agent for any red wines that are fined as well as most of our white wines*. Bentonite is one of the most commonly used agents today, and is a clay-like mineral substance, which is acceptable to vegan and vegetarian wine lovers. As mentioned above, all of our Limited Release wines are bottled unfined and any reds use bentonite. We have used gelatine in some of our white wines the past, but have tried to move away from animal derived agents. I’ll bring you a full list showing any wines that have used gelatine in the coming days.

*This applies to Fairview and La Capra wines.

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2 Comments on South African vegetarian wines

  1. Jo says:

    just read your post. thanks for highlighting the issue. Do you have the list of your wines that are gelatine free?

  2. All Fairview and single vineyard reds are vegan-friendly
    All Fairview whites from 2011 are vegan –friendly

    GDR Rose is vegan friendly
    Other GDR red wines e.g Goat Roti, Bored Doe, Goatfather are vegan friendly.

    We can make claims on specific La Capra wines – e.g. La Capra Merlot, Cabernet are both vegan-friendly

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