The big question “Is this wine vegan?” can leave your server or salesperson looking like you just stomped on their foot. We’ve all heard people say “I’m vegan, except for the (fill in the blank).” As a vegan wine drinker, some of us should maybe say “I’m vegan, except for the isinglass, egg albumen, casein and gelatin in my wine.” It’s true, those animal products may surprise even the most committed vegans among us. We’re not even bringing up the issue of animal products sometimes used in biodyamics. Some winemakers use these ingredients to make up for what might have been lacking in the vineyard or to bring clarity to their wines, among other reasons. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are cruelty-free and viable alternatives for winemakers to use. Just this year, the first wine company to dedicate themselves to vegan wines came into being. Clos LaChance, a well-respected California winery, launched the Vegan Vine. This company is breaking new ground by declaring their wines to be vegan every year. Besides making vegan wine more available, they are dedicated to increasing awareness about the vegan winemaking process. To discuss vegan wine further, I had a chance to chat with Cheryl Durzy, Vice President/Proprietor of Clos LaChance.
(Tami) How did the Vegan Vine Company come to be?
(Cheryl) Our sales manager’s daughter is a vegan and she was asking us what wines we (Clos LaChance, my family’s winery that makes Vegan Vine) made that were Vegan. It was pretty much most of them. She asked why we didn’t label them as such…and after looking into it, we figured out that it was a regulation with the alcohol labeling compliance arm of the US government. They try to be really careful about alcohol labels and making sure they do not look like non-alcoholic products. Saying anything about animal testing or products on the label falls under this regulation. But we were able to use the word Vegan in the brand name, as long as we proved the wine was vegan. So The Vegan Vine was born!
(T) Are other American winemakers (on the whole) reluctant to label their wines as vegan even if they are? If so, why do you think that is?
(C) I don’t think so. I just think that packaging regulations have kept them from doing so.
(T) Is making wine vegan more expensive, more difficulty or in some other way more of a challenge than with animal products?
(C) No it is not. I’s actually cheaper, we are using less “stuff” in the wine. Animal products are used to soften the wines….so the risk of not using them is a more astringent, angular style of wine vs. round and supple. All of the Vegan Vine Wines come from our Estate Vineyard. And the terroir here produces softer styles wine naturally in the vineyard every vintage.
(T) Do you hope to expand your line in time? If so, with what varietals?
(C) We will see how it goes and if we can get the wines out in the market. Even though the wines have been very well received by the public, it is still a challenge getting them into stores because of the way the wine distribution industry works. However I would love to do a Pinot Noir and perhaps a Zinfandel as well.
(T) Do you see the demand for vegan wine increasing? Where do you see the vegan wine market in 5 years?
(C) I do see the demand for Vegan Wine increasing. I believe that people, whether they are vegan are not, are paying more attention to the environment around them and trying to use products that are more earth friendly in general. I also believe that animal product usage in wine production is starting to get some attention paid to it because of our brand and our commitment to educating wine consumers. Since we started doing this, I am amazed by the number of vegans who had no idea that many wines were not appropriate for their lifestyle. I think that people are really confused about it in general.
In the bottled state, all wines are technically vegan because the animal products are filtered out before bottling. But that’s not really the true meaning of “vegan.” To be vegan means to not exploit any animals in the production of a product…so I think there are a lot of confusing messages out there.
Also, if vegan wines are important to you, I think it is key to ask the winemaker by vintage if the wines are vegan. Because the reason some animal products are used is because of what a wine might need because of the growing conditions that particular year. So unless a winemaker commits to a wine that is 100% vegan every vintage, the wines may be vegan in 2009 but not in 2010 (for example). So a listing for a particular wine on a web site should be vintage specific unless the brand has committed year after year. That’s what is nice about The Vegan Vine. We make it easy for people know for sure that the wine is vegan, vintage after vintage.
(T) What are some of your favorite food-pairings with your wines?
(C) With the Sauv Blanc, I made a simple brown rice and bulgar concoction. Basically a cup of each with some lemon juice and salt and sliced roasted red peppers. So good. With the Cabernet I like a good vegan chocolate anything. Cake or brownie or cookie fits the bill.
We’ve already made a difference in the availability of sugar that isn’t processed with bone char. Wine really isn’t any different. As vegan consumers, the greatest impact we can have is by making everyone aware that we would support them, from the server or salesperson all the way back to the winemaker. It’s up to us to kindly and gently inform the people who work in the industry that this issue is important to us. And when they listen, we need to thank them and spend our hard-earned money on their wines.
Thank you very much to Cheryl and the Vegan Vine for blazing the trail. May other winemakers follow in your footsteps. More will be featured here in the months to come.
Image Source: florianpainke (via Flickr)