From the Star Canterbury, by Yvonne Lorkin:
If you're of the vegan persuasion then you'll be chuffed to know that Blackenbrook Wines, in Tasman Bay near Nelson, will be printing "vegan wine" on all its white wines from the 2011 vintage. The demand for vegan wines is on the increase, says Duncan Gillespie of Wellington's Regional Wines & Spirits. "It's following on from people looking at what's in their food more closely. People are being more conscious of what they're putting into their mouths. As well as requests for vegan wine there's been a trend towards people with allergies looking at how their wine is made and whether it is produced sustainably."
Vegans will not knowingly consume anything which has been produced using animal products of any type, and Blackenbrook is one of less than 5 per cent of wine producers in New Zealand which make vegan wines using accredited sustainable practices.
Moana Park winery in Hawke's Bay is already stickering its wines as "Vegetarian Society Approved".
So how to clarify what constitutes a vegan or vegetarian-friendly wine?
Well, that's precisely it. It's all in how the wine is clarified, or "fined". This is the process of making the wine super-drinkable, sparkly-clean and stable before it is bottled. Fining removes bitterness and other unwanted components from the young wine, using milk, egg whites or fish products. Vegetarian wine rules allow casein, the main protein in milk, to be used to fine and clarify wine, along with albumin, or egg white, whereas vegan-approved wines ban casein and albumin and other animal products.
In addition to casein and albumin, common fining agents that are used in New Zealand are isinglass (sourced from the swim bladder of the sturgeon fish), gelatine (from the hooves and tendons of cattle) and carbon (burned and ground cattle bones). Only minute quantities of these fining agents actually remain in the finished wines.
"A lot of people don't realise that animal products are often used," says Daniel Schwarzenbach, Blackenbrook's owner and winemaker. "We don't add any finings because we don't need to. Our driving philosophy has always been to let the grapes speak, with as little interference as possible. We're able to produce vegan wine because of the design of the gravity-fed winery and the processes we use. Every time you pump or press the juice or wine, the rubbing motion creates bitterness. We don't have to use fining agents because gravity does most of the work and our young wines are balanced and don't show any bitterness," he says.
"I think it's important that if winemakers are doing things differently and not using additives that they label that well, because there is a market for it," Gillespie says. "I'm pleased that Blackenbrook state clearly that no fining agents have been used, and will add the word 'vegan' because that makes it clear to the consumer."
Moana Park's website says: "The vegetarian status in our winery comes from a position of us not wanting to add these components to our wine and having a regime of honest winemaking. It of course means we need to pay more attention to detail, but we are sure of the benefits in the finished product. This approach to winemaking is very minimalist with less additives used, and a resultant superior product."
The company also uses gravity as a means of cleaning its wines, but also uses bentonite - a natural aluminium silicate which eliminates any haze in the wines. "We also cross-flow filter our wines so we don't have to use bleached cardboard filter pads. Leaving these products out of the wine means that our wines have superior mouthfeel, texture and flavour."
Wrights Wines in Gisborne also produces wines and verjuice which are organic, biodynamic and vegan.