One of the ironies of going green is that as I (giddily) cultivate my new lifestyle, acquiring new knowledge and learning new skills (like gardening), I’m also constantly discovering more things I have to give up. Usually, for a challenge junky like me, sacrifices like H&M-boycotts are no big deal—likely because I’m too self-satisfied in my “cause” to feel the pangs of loss. But recently, as I’ve gone neck deep into sustainable living, the sacrifices have become harder to swallow.
Take wine, for instance. While not a regular drinker, I do get swoony over a glass of the good stuff—red Italians being my particular weakness. Now, I’ve gone as far as limiting my foreign wine consumption to less than once every month or two, but now I find out that most wine is not even vegan… Um, seriously? How can wine not be vegan?
It turns out that animal products are common processing agents in wine and beer. These include gelatins, which are made from animal bones; isinglass, a form of collagen made from fish swim bladders (I wonder how Dionysus ever discovered the utility of that); casein, a milk protein harvested from the stomachs of calves; animal albumin, which is essentially a protein made from animal tissue or dried blood powder (gross!); and chitin, a carbohydrate found in the exoskeleton of lobster and crab.
And just how do these animal parts contribute to the pleasure of that velvety Friday night class of vino I can’t wait to sit and savour? Oddly enough, they clean it.
After the wine has completed the fermentation stage, it then must be clarified of suspended particles, such as yeast, before bottling to remove cloudiness and any off-taste. Finings are agents that assist in the clarification process, and this is where those animal parts come in. When applied to the unclear wine, they serve in weighing down the unwanted particles so they settle to the bottom. Each also has its own qualities that contribute something different to the wine; for example, egg albumin (or egg whites) are said to reduce harsh tannins in red wine and improve “silkiness”—and are thus used to “finish” the wine. The wine is then filtered two to three weeks later. (Find a more detailed look at the process at the B.C. Amateur Winemakers Association website.)
Vegan wines replace the animal products with compressed paper, clay and other plant-based and alternative fining agents. Bentonite, kaolin, carbon and diatomaceous earth (rock made from pulverized algae) are examples of such vegan fining agents.
Apparently, both organic and non-organic winemakers employ the use of animal products—so drinking meat-free will require more than just label reading. As with any product on the market these days, the best way to determine whether a bottle is worthy is to do my research before hitting the local wine rack. That and getting a good wine guy or gal who knows their stuff.
(Tip: The Broadway International Wine Shop at Broadway and Macdonald, with its expert staff, is a great place to start.)