Surprisingly wine isn't automatically a vegan-friendly sip. Here's why

02 May 2019 - 00:00 By RICHARD HOLMES
Egg whites are sometimes used to to fine out red wines.
Egg whites are sometimes used to to fine out red wines.
Image: 123RF/Belchonock

For a product made of little more than grape juice, it surprises many wine-drinkers to discover that their favourite tipple isn’t always a vegan-friendly product. Whether it’s for cutting costs or shortening the production process, animal products are widely used in the wine industry.

One of the oldest examples of animal products in winemaking is the use of egg whites for “fining” astringent tannins out of red wines. Similarly, the milk protein casein is used to improve the clarity of white wines, while gelatine is sometimes used in both red and white wines. Perhaps the most bizarre agent is isinglass. Made from the swim bladders of fish, it is used to improve the clarity of white wines by removing solids in suspension.

Why are they not listed on the label? These fining agents are filtered from the wine before bottling and are therefore not deemed ingredients but mere processing aids.

Animal products aren't always listed on vino labels as they're filtered from the wine before bottling and so are considered  processing aids

While many cellars have found vegan-friendly alternatives, such as bentonite clay, for others it’s about getting it right in the vineyard first. “We have been a 100% organic wine farm from day one and just naturally extended the organic, natural approach from the vineyards to the cellar,” explains Frank Meaker, cellar master of Org de Rac in the Swartland.

“With a white wine such asverdelho, there are no tannins needing straightening out. On our reds, which are from thick-skinned, tannin-holding grapes, we pick at healthy pH, sugars and acids, ensuring structure and balance in the wines not requiring any gizmos.”

Starting out with balanced fruit makes all the difference, agrees Thys Louw, owner-winemaker at Diemersdal Wine. “We’ve never needed animal products such as egg whites on our merlot – the brilliant expressive sugars and integrated tannins make the wine easy and soft, so we don’t need to fine-out the tannins.”

Not sure where to start your adventures in vegan-friendly wines? On the outskirts of Pretoria, Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient, already famous for its award-winning wine cellar, recently launched a dedicated vegan-friendly wine list.

Image: Supplied

This article was originally published in the Sunday Times Neighbourhood: Property and Lifestyle guide. Visit