Vegan Wine: The Debate Continued

Vegan Wine

There was a debate recently on the Natural Wine Forum, a page set up on Facebook to give organic, biodynamic, red, white, rosé and orange low intervention wines from all over the world the love they deserve. 

The natural wine movement has been the biggest game-changer in the 21st-century wine world (according to Decanter) and for very good reasons. Natural wine is real wine, made the way it was supposed to be – by actual people, from clean grapes grown in proper, good old fashioned vineyards, no fuss, no chemical intervention. 

To class a wine as natural, the general idea is that the whole production of the wine, from the growing of the grapes (using organic, biodynamic or sustainable farming practices) to the fermenting, bottling and cellaring of wine is done with as little intervention as possible, be that without added chemicals (fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides, fining or filtration agents) or technological tinkering. Natural wines are essentially wines made in harmony with planet earth. 

And this is where the debate about vegan wine arose. We were trying to figure out, through a Chinese Parliament, how best to categorise the various types of wines we stock on Pull the Cork. We eventually broke them down into:

Farming Methods

  • Organic
  • Practising organic
  • Sustainable
  • Biodynamic 

Winemaking

  • Low Sulphur
  • Natural
  • Vegan-friendly 

We split natural and vegan-friendly into two separate categories because vegan-friendly wines are the hardest category to define. In fact, vegan wines can fit into so many different categories, however, everyone’s definition of what constitutes a vegan wine seemed to differ, and this is what the debate centred around. 

When does the winemaking process actually begin?

Whilst it is seemingly abundantly clear that a vegan wine per se has to contain no animal derivatives or animal by-products, no one could agree at what stage veganism enters the equation, because when does winemaking actually begin? 

  • Does a wine stop being vegan if a farmer buries cow horns under the vines? 
  • Does it stop being vegan if animal manure is used to fertilise the vines? 
  • Is it still vegan if the farmer keeps animals on the farm, for biodynamic farming purposes, but none of them are used in the winemaking process? 
  • How about if the farmer keeps no animals on the farm, but eats meat? 

The main point of the opposition’s argument (the opposition being those people who believe winemaking begins in the vineyard, not when the grapes enter the winery – as we believe), was that biodynamically farmed wines – wines produced through a farming practice that was created to work in symbiosis with nature, rather than against it, the most planet-friendly of farming methods that surely all vegans should embrace, actually contravenes what veganism stands for.

Because, and this leads onto the next part of the debate – what counts as an additive in wine if the winemaking process doesn’t start at the entrance to the winery (as we believe it does) but actually on the farm itself? 

Vegan-friendly wine, by the definition we have settled on, as mentioned above, is a wine that contains no animal byproducts or derivatives ie nothing animal-related has been added to the grapes that arrived at the winery. 

But for some vegans, those who say that winemaking begins in the vineyard, biodynamic farming methods don’t produce vegan wines because through these farming practices, animal products do enter the wine. 

Biodynamic Vineyards 

You see on a biodynamic farm, the whole farm operates as one entity, with 6 principles:

  • Plant diversity
  • Crop rotation
  • Animal life
  • Composting
  • Homoeopathic solutions
  • Life forces

All the parts work together, using and drawing upon each other to achieve the end goal – to create a farming system that is self-sustaining and sustainable for the long term. 

And animals are a central feature of this biodynamic farming method. Animals are thought of as workers; their manure is used to fertilise the plants and feed the soil, as are their horns, which are packed full of manure and ground quartz and buried in the Autumn to harvest ‘cosmic forces within the soil’. 

Which is why purist vegans argue that if animals are used in the grape growing part of winemaking, then the wines can’t be vegan, because some microorganisms from the animals will have entered the grapes. But how far can that argument go? And can you therefore ever truly have a vegan wine? 

Because for a vegan vineyard to exist in a wholly clean state, free of any animal contamination, it has to exist inside a protective bubble, one that is immune to insects, bees or wild animals such as mice, voles, snakes or birds. Because by absolutist vegan standards, no animal can come into contact with the soil, the grapes or in fact any part of the vineyard. 

And what happens if the winery isn’t located on the vineyard itself? How do you ensure that the grapes don’t suffer from some cross-contamination on their journey from the vine to the winery? You just can’t, there are too many variables. 

Taking a step back for a second, let’s discuss the main vegan philosophy that encourages vegans, as practicably as possible, to avoid any form of exploitation or cruelty to animals. 

Because this leads us back onto what constitutes a vegan wine. If you momentarily set aside the argument that some animal byproduct may have accidentally infiltrated the grapes at some point before the grapes reach the winery, you’re still faced with the fact that the very nature of biodynamic farming, the most earth-friendly form of farming, includes animals as part of the workforce. And this in the eyes of vegans in animal exploitation. Therefore any wine produced from a vineyard that has animals, for whatever reason, must be deemed non-vegan.

Vegan Wine – Our Conclusion

But who are we to say which form of veganism has superiority over any other; do the purists, the ethical vegans, outrank the rest of them? What about the vegans who don’t believe that microorganisms from biodynamic farming can taint their wine? 

You see, this subject is incredibly grainy, not black and white as we first thought. And we haven’t even touched on organic farming or sustainable farming methods.

And so what we (Pull the Cork) decided is firstly, everyone is entitled to their own opinion (as we are too). And secondly, as mentioned before, wine production begins when the grapes enter the winery, not before, and as such we classify vegan-friendly wines as wines that are made without the addition (at the winery) of any animal products. 

We figured this was a suitable way of allowing everyone to easily make a simple choice: to imbibe a vegan wine, or not. 

Vegan Wine Recommendations

If you’re looking for a vegan wine recommendation, look no further than these beauties. 

  1. Emidio Pepe Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2015 – £75

‘The wines of Emidio Pepe are probably some of the most sought after wines in the world at the moment’.

So what is it about these particular wines that make them so incredibly popular? Well for starters, Emidio Pepe wines are all produced from hand-picked grapes, the wines remain unfiltered and unfined, they are in essence the most natural wines to be produced since winemaking began. In their hidden depths, you’ll find no sulphites, no synthetic chemicals, nada. These wines are strictly natural, vegan-friendly and produced in a biodynamic fashion on an organic farm. 

Take this Montepulciano D’Abruzzo we have selected for example. Yes, it is expensive at £75 per bottle, but it is a limited edition wine, only 40-50,000 bottles of it were ever produced – to put that into perspective, France produces 7-8 billion bottles of wine annually. This winery is producing on a microscale in comparison. 

The Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is a rich deep red, full-bodied, balanced and bold. This is a wine that accompanies red meat beautifully, so if you’re having a leg of lamb for Sunday lunch, give it the toast it deserves. 

  1. Radikon Venezia Giulia Slatnik 2017 – £35

This beautiful orange wine is a delicious blend of Chardonnay and Tocai Friulano grapes. Produced by Saša Radikon in the far-east of Venezia-Giulia, close to the Slovenian border and made without sulphites thanks to Radikon’s use of long term maceration. This wine is natural, unfined, unfiltered, vegan and produced on an organic farm using biodynamic farming methods. 

All of this results in wines that are renowned for their complexities – orange and red wines that have a deep, wild flavour of exotic fruit, an intense aroma and a smooth finish. 

You would expect a wine like this to be heavy, but no, it is easy to drink, a rich, bold flavour with just a hint of acidity that cuts through giving it a fresh note. This wine pairs perfectly with pretty much any food, meat or fish, vegetables or fruit, but it works exceptionally well with Italian cheese. 

  1. Gut Oggau Weinland Maskerade White 2018 1L – £30

If you’re after a wine that will impress and wow, yet hit the spot, look no further than this Austrian, naturally produced, vegan-friendly white by Eduard Tscheppe and Stephanie Eselböck-Tscheppe. Made from grapes grown in a biodynamic way on an organic farm, this Maskerade white is produced at the Gut Oggau estate in Burgenland by Lake Neusiedlersee. 

The wines are an indigenous blend of Blaufrankish, Zweigelt Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), and Gewurztraminer grapes, and the result is a deliciously juicy yet crisp wine. Best drunk after a pause for breath and straight from the wine cooler, this is the wine you want to drink with family, with bread and cheese, pasta or fish. 

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