The Economist declared 2019 The Year of the Vegan. It was certainly a hot topic for the food industry, but how much has this global trend affected we winos in the corner? Is veganism having an commercial impact in the drinks trade? To find out more, we spoke to Matteo Inama of renowned producer, Inama, and Neil Palmer of leading organic and biodynamic specialist, Vintage Roots. 

Matteo Inama, Inama, wine producer of Soave, Italy

It becomes clear talking to Matteo that there is little regulation of the label ‘vegan’ in relation to wine. It’s difficult for consumers to be certain whether animal by-products have or have not been used in the production of a wine. This is partly to be down to the complexity, variability and diversity of the fining and stabilisation processes in which animal by-products may be used, as well as a lack of focus in retailers’ marketing strategy. Making specifically ‘vegan’ wines isn’t seen to be a commercial imperative, so for the moment Inama, like most producers, will continue to make wines using the either vegetal, mineral or animal products which best suit the technical requirements of a given wine in a given vintage. 

Do you perceive certifying wines as vegan commercially savvy or unnecessary at this point in time?

In the past we considered and declared to Waitrose that we were vegan friendly. But since last 2019 we’ve avoided this because [their marketing strategy around it] is not clear to us. It’s a tricky this because high street retailers just ask you to complete an auto-confirmation – but a prodcuer could answer ‘yes – our wines are vegan’ without providing proof or certification.

How do you use both animal, mineral and vegetal products in wine production currently?

We normally use Bentonite for white wines, especially the entry level one at the beginning of the year, so that it reaches protein stability and the wine can travel anywhere. In the past few years we have used low-dosage animal proteins such as casein. When we have tested [the casein] is undetectable with analysis so there are no allergen problems there. The Casein clears potential oxidative molecules that may otherwise give ‘heaviness’ to the wine after five years or so. 

For the reds we normally don’t touch the wines at all. Because they’re released so much later they have time to reach the required chemical stability themselves. With some reds, if we have a so-so batch, we sometimes decide to adjust the mouth feel with fish jelly, or to clean green tanks with a bit of egg white. There are trials and taste experiments – we never end up using them but it’s interesting to us to see how a wine can change and what the real quality is behind the weaker batches. 

Are you easily able to determine that mineral or vegetal products are vegan? 

We’ve never tried vegan certified products, I don’t know how easy is to find them, but nowadays normally there is no problem finding products. We have tried some vegetal products and they work quite well. However, they don’t always work as well [as non-vegan alternatives] in the winery. For example, pea protein is very reactive – if used improperly you might have only a quarter of a vat stabilised and the rest untouched by the treatment. 

Neil Palmer, Vintage Roots, leading specialist importer & merchant of Organic wine

Neil Palmer. Photo: Drinks Business.

When did you first start specifying vegan wines as a category on your list?

We must have been one of the first companies in the UK to pass this information on to customers, via V (Vegetarian) and VG (Vegan) symbols in our wine lists, since late 1980’s

Have you experienced increased interest in and/or sales of vegan wines?

Definitely increased interest, as you would expect with the big boom in veganism and other diets around that. Our website gets many more visits and searches – though it’s difficult to know whether we have gained lots of new sales. Our USP is still mainly the organic/biodynamic angle. We do supply quite a lot of good Veggie and Vegan restaurants with wines and beers though. 

In terms of demand, what correlation or relationship do you notice (if any) with the demand for vegan wines with demand for low sulphur wines?

The wine world can be a confusing place! Many customers think vegan wines are all organic, also that Fair Trade wines must be organic; no sulphur added wines are not necessarily organic, yet all organic wines generally have a slightly lower maximum permissible level of sulphur which can be used. Natural wines are not necessarily either without sulphur or certified organic/biodynamic. And so it goes on (we try to explain in our wine list/website).

Overall I’d say the interest in No Sulphur wines is more noticeable and possibly larger than the Vegan wine issue.

How easy (or difficult) is it for you as buyers to specify vegan wines? Do the producers routinely specify the fining agents used? Are some countries/regions/producers more ‘vegan aware’ than others?

As buyers we have to ask for this information from all suppliers. It’s easier to get these days as more producers know it is an issue. We’ve always actively encouraged our producers to go vegan or vegetarian as it opens up our wine range to everyone, and if you can do that without affecting quality, why wouldn’t you? One issue we have though is that just because a wine is vegan one year doesn’t mean it will necessarily be so from vintage to vintage unless we expressly specify this as buyers.

Is there any kind of guarantee/certification that a wine is vegan?

You can go for Vegan certification and a few of our wines have it. (we have some Vegetarian approved wines for which we pay for symbol – truth be known they are also vegan). The problem is it costs a lot, as well as the costs added labels to print and so on, so mostly we don’t. We just provide the information to customers or suggest to growers they could add in writing on their back labels.

Are you able to discern whether your customers for vegan wines are ‘purely vegan’ – i.e., they only ever buy vegan wine. Or are you seeing ‘non vegans’ trying a couple of vegan wines in their selection.

You cannot ‘taste’ a vegan wine any differently, so my guess is that it would only be serious, committed vegans who would exclusively search out and choose vegan wines. There are still lots of others that would not really go this far in the drinks category, compared to food. There are plenty more consumers still who don’t even know that vegan wine exists – or that it could be an issue.