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Vegetarian Wines 11/10/10

Roline Bosch takes a big gulp to find out why most wines in SA aren't vegan/veg-friendly.


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Wines for sale in the South African market are, for the most part, not vegetarian nor vegan friendly.  Things go sour during the fining part of the wine making procedure, which is much like a ‘settling’ process in wines, when animal products  such as albumen, from egg whites;  Casein, a milk protein; gelatin, from animal skin and tissues; or isinglass, from the bladder of sturgeon fish, are added and then later removed.  Perhaps is time to rethink your favourite wine…

Whilst trying to do adequate research for this post on the Internet, it quickly became apparent that almost no information exists on this topic in South Africa.  I found it quite frustrating to find news about South African vegetarian and vegan friendly wines on international sites.

A quick entry into the search box on the Wines of South Africa site (WOSA), the mouthpiece for the South African wine industry, for anything related to “vegetarian” or “vegan” also yielded nothing.  What I did find however, was the label requirements for all South African wines.  Based on this document, it is not mandatory to indicate the wine’s ingredients on the label of the wine.  If you know your wine bottles, you’ll also know that most farms do not choose to put ingredients on the labels.  This means that if you are a strict vegan or vegetarian,  enjoy wine and find yourself in front of your preferred retail outlet’s wine selection, you’ll have no way to know which wine uses the fish-based gelatin binding agent.

I’m interested to know whether this has ever been requested by members of the public to WOSA and if so, how it can not be enforced when all other food and drink-related items clearly state ingredients, or secondary ingredients, on the labels.  I’m writing a letter to WOSA for comment and will let you know how it goes.  I can only think that if any individual or goup have put this motion forward, the numbers must have been relatively small so as to not warrant further discussion on the topic.

Why it is not a bigger concern and want for vegetarians/vegans? Is it simply not a concern for vegan wine buyers?  Do vegans not drink wine?  Do vegetarians and vegans know that many wines are not suited for their lifestyle choice?  Perhaps vegans/veggies contact the wine supplier’s directly to find out – but this is only if you know that most wines aren’t suited to those that don’t eat animal products.  Trying to contact the Vegetarian Society of South African for comment/more information proves pointless as their contact page is broken on their site.  I’m hoping for a response from the Vegan Society of South Africa though, and will keep you posted.

On the upside, I did manage to source a small list (from an Irish website – can you imagine!) that you can take with you next time you go to the bottle store to help you make an informed choice.  If you know of any wines to add to this list, please feel free.  Herewith vegan and veggie-friendly wines available in SA:

In addition to this, a fantastic post on Fairview’s blog casts light on this subject matter, and further gives you some more understanding on the history of wine making and why it’s not friendly for veggies and vegans.  Big up to the responsible wine maker – responsible meaning being aware of others’ choices and taking them into consideration.

I’d like to hear from you on this issue if you are a winemaker, or learning to make wine, or a strict veggie/vegan and know what’s the dealio on this vine-rattling issue…

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24 Responses to this article

 
VegFromBirth November 10, 2010 Reply

Interesting, I have not really thought about this before. I grew up in a house where we did not eat meat or animal products or drink wine. I have stuck to the no meat path, but drink wine… Maybe I will have to start shopping more consciously from now on. What about other alcohol products (that might be the wrong term, a good wine is a work of art…), beer, spirits? The ingredients should be on the bottle so that you have the easy option to choose, just like a cookie with no eggs.

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Roline.Bosch November 10, 2010 Reply

I agree. Labels are a whole new matter! Certain religions get special certifications and specific labels – such as Kosher or Halal. I think something similar should exist, by law, for veg/vegan wines. Nowadays most food products will have a green “V” on menus or shelved goods – the same should apply to wine. Though, I do think it is the responsibility of the veg/vegan groups themselves to involve themselves in this process.

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Andrew November 10, 2010 Reply

Making the bottlers aware that people actually care about animal products in their wine would be helpful, if only to make them think for a few seconds. We cannot hope to change anything by boycotting products, but making a statement is worthwhile, as long as the target actually understands the message.

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Roline November 15, 2010 Reply

Very helpful response from Jodi Allemeier, director of the SA Vegan Society:

“Hi Roline,

Vegan wines are wines that do not use animal products (such as egg or fishmeal, for example) in the filtering process.

Other useful sources include:

http://vegans.frommars.org/wine/
http://vegans.frommars.org/pocket_guide_to_vegan_wine.pdf
http://barnivore.com/
Stellar Organic Wines are proudly vegan: http://www.stellarorganics.com/

Most wine makers are not aware that people care about this aspect and so labelling is generally very poor. In other words, there may be some wines that are vegan but we are unaware of it. We have requested that wine reviews, such as Platters Guide, CyberCellar etc, add an indication of whether a wine is vegan or not as they are conducting surveys with the wine makers already. Thus far they have not added it, perhaps adding your voice will encourage them…”

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VegFromBirth November 15, 2010 Reply

So how are we going to add our voice?

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Roline November 15, 2010 Reply

Perhaps a good way to start is making people aware.

What about writing up a petition? This can be circulated to all members of Veg societies nationwide and hopefully the word will get out. When done, handed over to influencers in the wine industry, such as John Platter, Wine Magazine, and WOSA. Perhaps this way we can get the “V” motif next to each vegetarian-friendly wine on the shelves and in books…

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Jodi Allemeier November 17, 2010 Reply

Hi everyone,

We have fixed the link on our site so you can now downlaod the list of vegan wines and beers available at Woolworths: http://www.vegansociety.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=104&Itemid=183

(scroll to the bottom for wines and click on the link – a document will download onto your computer)

Stellar organics label their wines as “Vegan Friendly” but as far as I know no other local wines are labelled in this regard? If anyone spots one, please do let us know.

We have also recently developed an official Vegan label that products can use if they get approval by the society.

I like the idea of a petition – Roline lest coordinate so we don’t duplicate efforts -, additionally people can contact Platters Guide, Wine Magazine, WOSA, CyberCellar etc directly with a personal message requesting they add this item to their reviews/labelling.

The new Consumer Protection Act (to be passed in 2011) should help in matters such as this, too.

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Matthew November 23, 2010 Reply

I work at MAN Vintners and Stark-Conde wines – I am vegetarian. All our wines are vegan-friendly and we don;t use animal or fish products when producing our wines. Chek out http://www.manvintners.co.za and http://www.stark-conde.co.za

As an additional comment, the wine industry is firmly in the carnivore camp – wine and food, especially meat dishes, is the staple diet in the wine industry. And many in the industry have no real understanding or even awareness of vegetarianism.

When using animal products in wine, these products may be added to the wine, but things like isinglass (fish based) or egg white powder are used to bind with proteins in the wine to aid with the clarification of wines, both red and white. They are also added to soften the texture and mouthfeel of the wine.
Many wine industry people assume that because these products bind with proteins and then become sediment in the wine, and are then filtered out of the wine, there is no real issue with having used these products. Essentially people seem to think that these products leave virtually no residue in the wines, so what are vegetarians complaining about?

Fortunately, I have found that if you calmly explain why this would be an issue for vegetarians, most wine makers and producers understand the issue.

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editor November 26, 2010 Reply

Thanks for all your feedback. This is a very interesting topic – and is something that I don’t think many conscious eaters are at all aware of!
I don’t see why wine companies wouldn’t want to share the “veggie” credentials- it’s good marketing for them and will help those among us who are concerned about trying to avoid animal byproducts as much as we possibly can.

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Roline December 2, 2010 Reply

@Matthew: Great to hear from a winemaker – thank you. A very helpful response indeed.

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Andrea March 6, 2011 Reply

Great article thanks!!

I phoned and emailed Woolworths requesting that they label their wines as vegan and I was told that they wouldn’t want their customers to think there was meat in the wines…but they would look into it. It really is a controversial topic because I guess the reality of what goes into wine is quite well hidden.

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editor March 6, 2011 Reply

Hi Andrea

Thanks for adding your response. It is interesting that Woolworths gave that as their answer. I think that you are correct that most people are completely ignorant about the wine making process and would be surprised at the animal products that are added. I know that I was. I also think that there are probably lots of vegan wines out there, but the farms don’t market it.

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Robyn April 6, 2011 Reply

WOW. I had no idea there were animal products in wine! It’s becoming a trickier and tricker world to navigate as a vegan.

Thank you so much for this article!

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editor April 6, 2011 Reply

I’m so glad that we could help 😉

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Tessa April 21, 2011 Reply

Great article. very informative!

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Nikki Botha May 23, 2011 Reply

Hi – did you ever hear back from WOSA? And how do the labeling standards conform to the new CPA? Do you know?

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Editor: Laura May 23, 2011 Reply

hi Nikki. I will follow up on this! Thanks for your interest in the matter. Hopefully we can get some answers.

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nissim May 30, 2011 Reply

Thanks for a great article. I was shocked last year while doing research for a website I was writing for Delaire wines that they used sturgeon bladders – which led me to more investigation – as I have been a vegetarian for 23 years (well no meat or poultry, and minimal fish). I might occasionally choose to have some fish – but I’d like to know about it.

One other wine labelled as Vegetarian Friendly is the Villiera Down to Earth range – a white and a red – which are both delicious and very affordable (R35).

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Editor: Laura May 30, 2011 Reply

I’m glad it’s been useful to you. I definitely want to try and put together a more comprehensive list…

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Sheldon Hey September 29, 2011 Reply

Hi there, we (Vegan SA) have committed to completing this arduous task. It’s a huge job and requires a lot of time since there are hundreds if not thousands of wines in SA.

You can see the progress we have made so far here:
http://www.vegansa.com/foodstuffs-wine.php

As you can see we have so far only got to the letter D! :)

BTW: we only list ‘wineries’ that are vegan, not ‘wines’. We don’t have the resources to monitor wineries that sometimes use animal products – it’s got to be “all or nothing” to count.

We also plan to do the same task for other alcohol drinks in SA.

Hope you find this useful. :)

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Editor: Laura September 29, 2011 Reply

Thanks Sheldon – this is very useful.

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Dylan January 5, 2012 Reply

Hi, interesting article – as I understand it, the defining difference between vegetarian and vegan is that vegetarians don’t eat flesh but do eat other animal products, while vegans eat no animal products whatsoever. If this is indeed the case, why would vegetarians be concerned with animal products in their wine? I might have the wrong idea, of course…

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Editor: Laura January 5, 2012 Reply

Hi Dylan,

There are actually a few different types of vegetarians (http://veggiebunch.co.za/fridays-picture-27/). You get: 1) lacto-ovo vegetarians who consume fruit, veg, dairy and eggs. 2) Lacto-vegetarians who consume fruit, veg and dairy. 3) Ovo-vegetarians who consume fruit,veg and eggs.

Some of the wine processes use animal skin and tissue, fish, egg or dairy extracts etc and, depending on what process is used, don’t fit all vegetarian diets.

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Lesley Smith September 21, 2012 Reply

Hi there all,
I have been a vegetarian for about 15 years now and am absolutely livid that us as consumers are not getting told the whole truth about what goes into our food. I was shocked and dismayed to find out what goes into the making of wine – who would have thought??? I didn’t have a clue, and was happily sucking away at what was then my favourite beverage after a hard day at work – which i must add have now found their way down the sink!!! Unfortunately we are dealing with one of SA’s leading industries and getting the message out there about what the stuff consists of is going to be an uphill battle – a battle I am sure most of us are going to be happy to take part in!!!

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