Why Not All Wines Are Vegan (or Even Vegetarian)
As we all know wine is made from grapes. Essentially wine is fermented grape juice as discussed in my post last year on winemaking. Yeasts, either natural or cultured, convert the grape juice sugars into alcohol. So far this all seems to be vegan-friendly.
The reason that all wines are not vegan or even vegetarian-friendly has to do with how the wine is clarified and a process called 'fining'. All young wines are hazy and contain tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are all natural, and in no way harmful. However, we wine-drinkers like our wines to be clear and bright.
Most wines, if left long enough, will self-stabilize and self-fine. However, traditionally producers have used a variety of aids called 'fining agents' to help the process along. Fining agents help precipitate out these haze-inducing molecules. Essentially, the fining agent acts like a magnet – attracting the molecules around it. They coagulate around the fining agent, creating fewer but larger particles, which can then be more easily removed.
Traditionally the most commonly used fining agents were casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). These fining agents are known as processing aids. They are not additives to the wine, as they are precipitated out along with the haze molecules.
Fining with casein and albumin is usually acceptable by most vegetarians but all four are off limits for vegans because tiny traces of the fining agent may be absorbed into the wine during the fining process.
A New Direction
But there is good news. Today many winemakers use clay-based fining agents such as bentonite, which are particularly efficient at fining out unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal is another vegan and vegetarian-friendly agent that is also used.
In addition, the move to more natural winemaking methods, allowing nature to take its course, means more vegan and vegetarian-friendly wines. An increasing number of wine producers around the globe are electing not to fine or filter their wines, leaving them to self-clarify and self-stabilize. Such wines usually mention on the label 'not fined and/or not filtered'. Learn more at thekitchn.com.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST
San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties make up the southernmost district of the Central Coast American Viticultural Area, AVA. There are 27,600 acres of wine grapes planted in San Luis Obispo County and 16,600 acres planted in Santa Barbara County, totaling more than 44,000 acres. Together they make up 7.4 percent of the total state winegrape crush. The number one wine grape variety in San Luis Obispo County is Cabernet Sauvignon with 8,600 acres. Merlot is second with 4,200 acres. There are about 110 wineries in the County. In Santa Barbara County, Chardonnay is the predominant grape with 7,100 acres, and Pinot Noir follows with 3,200 acres. There are almost 90 wineries.
The city of Paso Robles, situated 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, is in San Luis Obispo County, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The area is characterized by warm, clear days, generally unencumbered by clouds, fog or severe winds. Nighttime temperatures drop by approximately 40 degrees, cooled by a marine layer that moves over the region after sunset. Proximity to the ocean, orientation of the numerous canyons and valleys, and varying elevations produce diverse macroclimates, allowing production of both cool and warm loving winegrape varieties. There are four general soil associations, primarily formed from the weathering of granite, serpentine, shale and sandstone.
In Santa Barbara County, the north-south coastal range of mountains abruptly turns to run almost east-west for 50 miles, framing the valleys in a unique transit to the Pacific Ocean. This is the only stretch of land from Alaska to Cape Horn constituting an east-west traverse. The unique topography allows the flow of fog and ocean breezes to shape distinct microclimates and makes the region one of the coolest viticultural areas in California. However, warmer daytime temperatures in the inland areas allow a wide variety of winegrapes to be grown. Terrain and climates vary widely, from steep, wind-swept hillsides to rolling inland valley vineyards where summer temperatures often reach the century mark.
Explore the wonderful world of wine through the eyes and the palates of the experts. Hear their stories, learn the land and understand the many pleasures of this age old libation.