Is Making Vegan Wine Difficult?
Many filtering/fining agents are animal-based, but alternatives exist
As it turns out, many wines are not strictly vegan because animal-derived products are used for fining or filtering. Common filter/fining materials including isinglass (fish derived), gelatin, egg whites or milk protein caseins—even if only trace amounts remain in the finished beverage—are “not appropriate for the vegan lifestyle,” according to Gary Smith, principal of Evolotus PR, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based agency that works with many animal-protection organizations and nonprofit groups. “Even a lot of long-time vegans don’t know this,” said Smith, a practicing vegan for many years.
“Each vegan has to deal with the minutia,” Smith continued. “You buy organic veggies, but your cat can’t go vegan: It’s not healthy. Everybody makes their own decisions. It’s impossible to live in the world and not harm animals. You do the best that you can.”
Clos LaChance, the Murphy family’s 60,000-case winery in San Martin, Calif., decided to make it easier for vegan imbibers. After a discussion with a vegan cousin during a family vacation two years ago, Clos LaChance created The Vegan Vine and began to market Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends under the label. With enthusiastic distributors, and the energetic promotion efforts of partner and ambassador John Salley, a former NBA champion, Vegan Vine has already sold through some 5,000 cases.
Launching a vegan label wasn’t much of a stretch for Clos LaChance. Its 150-acre estate vineyard and its production facility are certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Moreover, said director of marketing Cheryl Murphy Durzy, “We fine all of our products with bentonite clay,” a vegan-approved material. So no changes were needed to produce The Vegan Vine at Clos LaChance—the entire facility is certified by Vegan Action.
More choices than you’d expect
The ever-vigilant animal-protection activists at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) verify on the organization’s website: “Thankfully, there are several common fining agents that are animal-friendly and used to make vegan wine. Carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel and vegetable plaques are all suitable alternatives.” PETA also publishes a list of vegan wines.
So does Barnivore; its list names thousands of wines produced in the United States and many more from other wine-producing countries. Unfortunately, Smith said, these lists are not consistently updated, and wine-production techniques may change from year to year, depending on the demands of Mother Nature. “One vintage may be vegan, the next may not be,” Smith said.
Given Clos LaChance’s in-house standards, every vintage of The Vegan Vine is guaranteed vegan. Its slogan, “Wine with compassion,” and neck hangers on its bottles explain what differentiates it from non-vegan products.
Smith conceded, “There aren’t enough vegans in the U.S. to sustain any vegan business. Estimates range from 0.5% to 2%, but these are self-defined vegans. I’d guess maybe 1% of the population is vegan.”
Durzy is encouraged by consumer and distributor reception so far and would be happy to see The Vegan Vine grow to a 50,000-case business. “We hadn’t thought to make it widely distributed, and we’re just ramping up in different markets. We just solidified an agreement with Young’s Markets in California.”
She credited Salley with jumpstarting recognition for the brand. On a recent “work-with” sales trip to New York, “We sold 35 cases in three hours in Harlem,” she said. Having a 7-foot-tall, charismatic celebrity and hardcore vegan as a public face gives the brand a real leg up, Durzy said.
The Vegan Vine wine club will ship to members quarterly at a discount. Durzy said the winery has just partnered with Mercy for Animals and will serve The Vegan Vine wines at its upcoming fundraiser in Los Angeles.