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.
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…
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