Following the inaugural Natural Wine Fair in London in May I entered into an interesting correspondence with a journalist called Sarah Scott who writes for a magazine called Vegetarian Living. Sarah had attended the Natural Wine Fair and had been impressed by some of the wines on tasting there and was keen to write a feature on natural wines. As we have mentioned (frequently) beforehand ‘natural wines’ are fairly loosely defined at present but are fundamentally organic or biodynamic wines that are made with minimal intervention in the vineyard and cellar. Sarah just wanted to double-check on the credentials of natural wines with regard to their suitability for consumption by a) vegetarians and b) vegans.

One could be forgiven for thinking that (as it is made from fruit juice) all wine is suitable for both groups but that is not the case. The crux here is to do with products that are used to clarify or ‘fine’ wines and these can be of animal origin. One might reasonably assume that organic and biodynamic wines cannot be made using animal products but that is not the case either, as I discovered from consulting Monty Waldin’s excellent book ‘Biodynamic Wines’ [Mitchell Beazley 2004]: “If fining agents are used they must not be man-made, so the synthetic free radical PVPP is banned. All other fining agents used in conventionally grown wines - such as gelatin, egg-white, isinglass, and casein – are permitted.”
So it is possible to have a ‘natural wine’ that isn’t suitable for vegetarians or vegans.

This is pretty frustrating from a vegetarian stance as very few natural wine makers deploy either isinglass (which comes from the swim bladders of fish) or gelatin (from animal bones) as a fining agent but at present there is nothing saying they can’t so one cannot assume all natural wines are vegetarian-friendly. More irksome still is the fact there is rarely anything on a wine label telling you anything about this so it is necessary to check at source how the wine has been made if one wants a definitive answer.

The outlook is even more problematic from a vegan viewpoint. Lots of natural wine-makers use egg white (hopefully from outdoor-reared, organic hens) or casein (a milk derivative) to clarify their wines and wines made by such methods are not suitable for vegans. Plenty of natural wines are not fined or filtered at all or are fined without animal products so could be vegan friendly but there is currently no way of knowing without asking the producer or supplier. The use of horses to plough vineyards is increasingly popular in the natural wine making firmament but this, along with the use of animal manure in composts and milk-based sprays for vine treatments may raise issues for strict vegan adherents.

Clearly greater clarification is called for. Or maybe the answer is no clarification at all!

Perhaps I need to get out more...

Here are just some of the vegetarian wines in stock at Yapp Brothers: