Working in marketing means people ask you to deliver all sorts of information on a daily basis. What I find the most difficult to deal with is when people ask me to give them a list of wines that are vegetarian or vegan. I mainly find it difficult because it’s total nonsense. Now, I have nothing against vegetarians or vegans and never presume to discourage wine consumption but I seriously think that if they are so concerned about whether wines are veggie or vegan, they should just not drink them.
I recently read an article on a consumer website talking about animal cruelty in conjunction with wine. The article talked about isinglass, which is used as a fining agent for white wines. It’s made from the swim bladders of sturgeon, an endangered fish. The article suggested that sturgeon are caught specifically for their swim bladders in order to make isinglass. Errr….what? Have you seen the size of those things? Nonsense. Sturgeon is pretty tasty from what I hear. It is caught for food to begin with (and especially caviar) – isinglass is a by-product, not the reason. To blame wine producers for making sturgeon endangered is a simplistic, un-researched way to look at things.
Aside from isinglass, other fining agents are routinely used during winemaking to ensure wines are clear and haze-free. If you like your wines a bit on the cloudy side (some do, I am not one of them), many ‘natural’ wine evangelists would point you in that direction. ‘Natural’ wines supposedly have nothing added to them and nothing taken away. Great for vegetarians and vegans? Actually, I believe that to call any wine vegan is hypocritical. So, you want a wine that has not been fined with any animal products and none of this product is left in the wine. Fine. Fining agents like gelatine, milk, eggs or isinglass are usually removed from wine anyway so in theory they shouldn’t leave a residue.
But what about what happens during the winemaking part? You don’t mind how many bugs, spiders, flies and so on die in the making of a wine you’re about to drink, so long as they’re not in it once the wine is bottled? That’s not right. I worked in a few wineries and witnessed the death of many a fine species, including spiders and mantis, whether by drowning or in a crusher. Ladybirds can be especially bad. Some say the ladybird ‘flavour’ stays in the wine, making it smell and taste of peanuts or vegetal matter. Fining agents are not so good at removing it either and I have heard certain vintages of wines from certain high quality regions had been affected by the ladybird taint. What would vegans think about that? They’re most likely never going to know so who cares, right? Ignorance is bliss. Except it’s not. If you’re going so far to reject eating, drinking and wearing anything may have resulted in the death of an animal (whether intentional or not), you should also consider those bugs, spiders, flies (I’ve heard of event rats!) that get crushed/drown in wine during the winemaking process and probably refuse to drink wine altogether. Else, frankly, you’re a hypocrite.
Lenka (The Evil Monkey)
PS: I could also mention biodynamic wines and the use of stag bladders, cow horns from lactating cows or talk about microorganisms like bacteria or yeast but we could be here for a while…