“Veganism is not going away.” Meaning of Tonia Brow, a former real estate agent turned animal-rights advocate who runs the blog NapaValleyVegan. When she and her husband moved to Napa six years ago, Brow was disappointed by how few vegan-friendly food and wine options she found. Now, she says, that’s changing. “Now you can completely spend a whole day touring vegan-friendly wineries in Napa Valley.”
“What?! Isn’t All Wine Vegan?” is a tagline on Brow’s website. To most of us that seems like a good question. Wine is just grapes, right? Isn’t it automatically vegan?
It’s complicated. After wines have fermented, winemakers often depend on a practice called fining to remove impurities. In red wines, for instance, fining agents remove excess tannins. In white wines, they remove proteins that can make wine look cloudy. Traditionally, these fining agents have been made from animal products: egg whites for red wines and a derivative of fish bladders, called isinglass, for whites.
(Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
But a growing number of Napa wineries are foregoing animal-derived fining agents — whether to be vegan friendly or simply because they want to produce wines that are as natural as possible. Currently there are at least two dozen Napa Valley wineries, regularly open to the public, that pour wines that are vegan friendly, whether labeled as such or not.
For red wines, one alternative is using bentonite clay instead of egg whites. Or doing no fining at all. “It’s not necessary,” says Ivo Jeramaz, vice president of grape growing and winemaking at Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford. “We want to make the best, most authentic wine. We grow grapes organically. We do everything to get grapes that you don’t have to add anything to.”
Wine barrels are stacked at Grgich Hills Estate where production techniques result in all vegan wines. Photo: Noah Berger, Special To The Chronicle
Photo: Noah Berger, Special To The Chronicle
Wine barrels are stacked at Grgich Hills Estate where production techniques result in all vegan wines.
White wines are tougher: You’re less likely to find ones that don’t use fining agents, Brow says. Without them, “you’d get a dirty brown Chardonnay,” Jeramaz says. Still, some wineries have gone 100 percent vegan. O’Brien Winery fines none of its wines. All of Domaine Carneros’ sparkling wines are vegan friendly — you’ll even find the word “vegan” on the back label.
So, you there, sweating over animal testing in the tasting room, relax. You can devise a Napa Valley wine tour that will please vegans and non-vegans alike. You probably won’t even notice that the wines you’re enjoying are vegan-friendly. “Really, vegan wines are absolutely just as good,” Brow says. “You can never tell the difference.”