Understanding ethical and vegan wines

Understanding: Ethical & Vegan Wine

Happy Friday everyone! The weekend is approaching and it’s nearly time to kick off those shoes, enjoy some good food and have a well-deserved glass of wine. But if, like me, you’re trying to live a greener lifestyle and be more conscious about what you consume; getting to grips with what wine you should drink can be pretty tricky.

This is especially true when, as a Vegan, I’m trying to avoid anything which contains or uses animal products. As an avid wine drinker, I was dismayed in my first week of veganism to learn that most wines use animal products – like gelatine, isinglass (from fish bladders), chitosan, casein and egg albumen – in their filtration or fining processes. But as no legislation currently exists, very few wines actually state this on the label.

So, one evening recently, whilst my friend and I searched aimlessly around London’s swanky bars in search of Vegan friendly wine; we stumbled into Vagabond Wines – an independent wine bar and shop – which promised to get us merrily drinking in no time. But after a chat with their resident wine expert (and general know it all), Mark, it turns out that Vegan wine is a hotly debated subject. In fact, he suggested that if my primary motive behind my veganism was for environmental reasons; there could be more sustainable options available.

wine grapes

Vegan wine is defined as not containing – or using – any animal products in the filtration or fining process. So no egg or fish bladders in your vino sounds good, right? But the issue is that that if they are not using animal products, they are using something else; which may actually be worse for the environment and for our bodies. Commonly, the ingredients used to replace animal products for vegan wines can often be unstable, and can actually be harmful for the environment. Alternatives to animal products, for example, include bentonite, Kaolin (both clay minerals) or a variety of entrained, liquefied insects and arachnids. These can be equally harmful for soil, ocean, animal and human health. Bentonite in particular has been linked to toxicity impact on aquatic environments and Kaolin mining has caused land erosion and coral reef destruction.

However, as with any science, multiple opinions exist; and arguably any man-made production process will have an impact on the environment. The biggest problem with Vegan wines is that their avoidance of animal products doesn’t always guarantee that no pesticides or insecticides were used (which actually could inadvertently hurt livestock and our health).

So which wines are ethical?

Well, this really depends on what your personal beliefs are, and your reasons for going green. As I have already identified, going green is a somewhat personal journey of discovery; and facts and options are many and varied out there! For me, the main reason I’m trying to live a greener lifestyle (and a big part of my veganism) is to promote sustainable methods of production of food and drink, and to live a lifestyle which makes the least impact on the environment.

So, for MY ethical beliefs, Mark suggested I drink organic or Biodynamic wines; which can be defined as:

  •  “From Organically grown grapes” – Means the grapes were grown organically, but the wine-making process didn’t follow organic practices. (see my post Understanding ethical labels for more on Organic definitions)
  •  “Organic Wine” – Grapes and wine produced using organic practices.
  •  “From bio-dynamically grown grapes” – Means the grapes were grown bio-dynamically but the wine-making process didn’t follow bio-dynamic practices.
  •  “Bio-dynamic wine” – Grapes and wine produced using Bio-dynamic practices.

Bio-dynamic wines in particular try to work with nature; using sustainable farming processes and avoiding harmful pesticides that can cause harm to the earth (including animals!) So these wines, in theory, may well be more animal friendly than vegan wine.

It’s important to note that whilst Bio-Dynamic wines may use small amount of egg whites; all of them source their eggs from biodynamic certified hens (legislation clearly states this and is very strict on these certifications).

What to buy

So the verdict is out for me as to my thoughts on vegan wines, and I certainly need to give this can of worms more investigation! But for the time being, here’s some handy biodynamic recommendations from Mark the wine guy…

Cullen – they are available in the UK
Waterkloof – they are available in the UK and in Whole Foods
Foradori Wines – available in the UK

More reading

Biodynamic wines by Monty Waldin

Effect of suspended bentonite clay on the acute toxicity of glyphosate to Daphnia pulex and Lemna minor by William A. Hartman, Dan B. Martin

Impact of a kaolin clay spill on a coral reef in Hawaii by S. J. Dollar, R. W. Grigg




11 thoughts on “Understanding: Ethical & Vegan Wine”

  1. Very interesting post! As an avid wine drinker, compassionate and environmentally conscious vegan, I have struggled with this dilemma as well. However, I’ve never taken the time to really get to the bottom of the issue.

    Thank you so much for this information and for citing the resources. I admit I have knowingly, from time to time, enjoyed wines that were not made from organic grapes or vegan friendly when I am out or in another’s home where there are no other wine options.

    But I have found 2 wine makers that seem to have it together–Frey Vineyards in California and Stellar Organics, South Africa. Both are available at our local Whole Foods market.

    In your research, what did you learn about sulfites? I seem to be quite sensitive to them and almost always get a headache from drinking non-organic wines.


    1. Thanks so much for your comment, glad you found it helpful!

      Even with the help of “Mark the wine guy” it has been a very tricky thing to look into and lots of paradoxical definitions…

      Thanks for the recommendations. I don’t call myself a lazy girl for no reason, and will admit I too have cut more than a few corners when it comes to wine!

      I’ll do some investigation into sulfites as this isn’t something I have much knowledge on.


      1. Some info on Sulfite in wine…

        There is no such thing as a sulfite free wine, and is very much a case by case bases. Quickly, depending on the type of wine, sulfite levels will vary, less in red, more in dry table whites, and more again in sweeter whites. As i mentioned above, its very much a case by case bases, there will be non organic wines that will contain less sulfite than organic wines, its just a matter of doing a bit research into the wine you wish to consume. What to look for is a winery that is relatively close to their vineyard, the closer they are together, the shorter the distance the grapes have to travel to be processed. In a lot of wine regions the winery can be many kilometres away, so the need to dust the grapes with potassium metabisulfite is high, its basically a powder which stops oxidation and also premature fermentation, which can happen if the grapes are squashed and have a long distance to travel before getting to the winery. I believe that the above powder can be responsible for allergic reactions. So big wine companies (i’m sure you know which) will have vineyards hundreds of kilometres away from their winemaking facility, so they will probably dust the grapes before the journey. Most supermarkets carry these wines… in your case, it may be better to shop at an independent wine shop that stocks smaller, family owned, boutique producers and also offers a lot more insight into what you are drinking.

        In organic and bio dynamic wines, no excess sulfite are added, only ones that occur naturally will be in the wine. So, in theory Bio and Organic wines should not contain excess sulfite. In the wine world there are MANY winemakers who practice these methods (Bio and Organic practices) but dont believe in the certification, as it attracts a very high cost and many people use it as a marketing ploy. Which is another reason to read up on the winery!

        What i suggest is delving more into the specific wineries that align to your ethos/beliefs and create a bit of a short list so you have lots of options, take it to a independent shop and they should be able to source it for you! if you live in London, pop into our shop.

        A thought on headaches…

        Dont be so quick to blame sulfite! there may be another option…. the type of alcohol.

        The 3 main types of alcohol present in wines are
        Ethanol (produced from grape sugar, Glucose and Fructose)
        Glycerol (a bi-product from yeast during fermentation)
        Methanol (grape pectins, in high amounts can be very dangerous)

        The main alcohol present is ethanol, The varying levels of these alcohols may attribute to headaches too. The purer the alcohol the better chance you have of it not giving you a hangover. Have a read up on those types and see what you find.


  2. Another very, very quick point.

    There is no legislation on Vegan wine, and as it stands right now, the animal products used during the wine making process do not fall into the ingredient category and therefore do not need to be added on the label.

    I heard a horror story a few weeks ago about a big wine company that also produces vegan friendly wine on the side, but do not flush there tanks in between bottling runs. That means that the ‘vegan friendly’ wine would be contaminated with wine that has seen animal fining agents during the process. Because of the lack of legislation they dont need to state what fining and filtration methods/practices they employed. A perfect example of how a vegan wine tag is a marketing tool more than a ethos or belief.

    I must admit, i do not buy into vegan friendly wines at all. Recently i saw a website stating that all Bio-dynamic wine is vegan friendly, this is very much not true.


    1. Thanks for all this extra info Mark! It certainly stirs up some questions regarding vegan products in general; though I disagree that the “vegan tag” you describe is a marketing tool. There are genuinely people out there who are conscious of what they are consuming and wish products could be labelled more clearly. And I’m sure some wineries honestly want to provide a product for these people, though – as with anything – perhaps they tend to overlook the wider implications of some ingredients or processes?

      Do you know if there is a reason why ingredients in wine don’t have to be labelled in the same way as food?


  3. Thanks so much for sharing this. The other day a coworker of mine came over and said he had just gone to a “vegan” winery. I sort of smirked and said, “But aren’t all wines vegan?” He didn’t really know enough about it to tell me what I needed to know. I had no idea that ANYTHING like what you described went into wine. As an avid wine drinker, I am shocked and appalled that this happens and furthermore that it isn’t clearly indicated on any sort of label as a disclaimer. Now I’m going to have to rethink my stance on wine and hopefully locate a clean “vegan” winery nearby…Thanks again for sharing.


    1. Thanks for your comment – I was certainly dismayed to learn what went into wines, once I went vegan. I thought I had it nailed when I discovered sites like barnivore.com and the numerous vegan wine apps; which allow you to search well known brands to find out if they are “vegan friendly”. But in reality, I think its a bit of a can of worms when you delve deeper into what ingredients go into wine, or alcohol in general (vegan or not!) I guess it ultimately depends on what your ethics are and what you are willing to compromise on; unless you plan to be tee-total (which I don’t…)


      1. Yeah, at the end of the day, I usually have to tell myself that there’s only so much I can control. I make the best choices I can with the what I have. Sometimes ignorance is bliss! But I think it is important to be conscious of these things even if you choose to be more “lax” about it. I can see it both ways. But I doubt I’ll stop going to wineries entirely. And I haven’t even begin to look up what’s in other alcohol during the creation process…beer? Liquor? Do I even want to know? Haha


        1. Haha totally agree! Being green minded or vegan doesn’t mean you have to suddenly be perfect and live the ideal life, its about – as you say – being more conscious and living as close to your ethics as you can.

          There’s a reason I only wrote about wine…I like my G&T too much to know about how it was made! :p


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