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Time to de’fine’ vegan wine

Processing aids in winemaking are frequently of animal origin – here’s the low-down on creating and labelling vegan wine in SA.

Veganism has gained widespread popularity in recent years, resulting in increased demand for vegan products. Individuals who follow a vegan diet refrain from consuming any food or beverages that either contain animal products or were processed using animal products, eg processing aids.

The vegan status of processing aids may not always be known to consumers. Wine, for example, is made from grapes; but animal-derived products are often used in the winemaking process.

When is wine non-vegan?

During the winemaking process, the liquid may be filtered through substances called ‘fining agents’.

Wines are often hazy and contain tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates, tannins, phenolics and other organic particles. The fining process allows winemakers to remove these compounds from wine, either before or after the fermentation process.

Although most wines will self-stabilise and self-fine with time, a winemaker may add fining agents to speed up the process. In addition to clarifying the wine, fining agents might be added to correct an imperfection or to fine-tune the taste of a wine.

Popular animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine include casein (milk protein), chitin (fibre from crustacean shells), egg albumen (protein derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (commonly derived from collagen taken from animal body parts – bovine, fish or pork), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes).

The fining agent acts like a magnet: haze-inducing molecules coagulate around the fining agent, forming larger particles which can easily be removed by filtration. In the precipitation process, the fining agents are generally removed from the wine along with the haze-inducing molecules. However, some residual fining agents may still be present in the final wine product.

How can wine be vegan?

Vegan wine is either ‘natural’ wine that has not been fined, or wine that has been fined using substances that are vegan-friendly, such as clay or charcoal.

What is required to label your wine as vegan?

The requirements for vegan products are unique and multi-factorial. For this reason, several factors must be taken into account when adding a vegan claim to a wine product. These include regulatory considerations, vegan endorsement requirements and food safety and ethical aspects.

  • Regulatory considerations

Although not applicable to wine, The Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs (R.146/2010) define vegetarian- and vegan-based statements that can be used on pre-packed food products. These definitions may give the industry some guidance on what to consider when making vegan-related claims for wine.

‘Strict vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ is reserved for products where all ingredients and additives derived from animal origin are excluded. Ingredients of multi-cellular plant, fungal, algal and bacterial origin are included, but all animal flesh and products obtained from the slaughter of an animal, such as gelatin, are excluded.

The Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act (Act No. 54 of 1972) and the Consumer Protection Act (Act 68 of 2008) (CPA) prohibit direct or indirect marketing to the consumer of goods if the marketing implies a false, misleading or deceptive misrepresentation concerning a material fact.

In other words, if a product contains animal substances or has been produced using animal derivates, and it contains a vegan claim, it can be considered misleading and deceptive and therefore in contravention of these acts.

  • Vegan organisations

There are many vegan organisations and endorsement bodies worldwide. Each organisation has its own set of requirements for a product to qualify as vegan.

For example, for a product to be listed on the South African vegan directory (also known as Vegan SA), one must ensure that the product is free from animal products and has not been subjected to animal testing, and that cross-contamination with animal substances has been prevented or minimised as far as possible.

  • Food safety

In South Africa, four of the eight regulated common food allergens are of animal origin, namely cow’s milk, egg, fish and shellfish. Products derived from these allergens are commonly used as fining agents in wine.

Because a vegan claim implies that a product contains no animal products or by-products, it may also suggest to consumers that it is free from these allergens. If this is not true, this may create a risk for allergic consumers, who could assume that the product is safe for their consumption.

  • Ethical concerns

Vegan-based lifestyles are frequently driven by strong ethical concerns, and products suitable for these diets often come at a premium price. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that vegan consumers are neither financially nor morally exploited.

How can you substantiate a vegan claim on wine?

There is limited guidance on how to go about proving that wine is vegan. In the food industry, however, testing is frequently used to validate and substantiate labelling claims. Analytical testing is a powerful tool, widely used to assess product authenticity.

Although it is not stipulated that testing is a prerequisite for vegan claims, the wine industry often uses laboratory analyses as part of their due diligence. However, traditional wine-testing methods are not necessarily suitable or even sensitive enough to assess the validity of a vegan claim.

FACTS SA has the solution: FACTS SA (Food & Allergy Testing & Consulting Services), the Stellenbosch-based lab and consulting company, has developed a vegan wine screen that uses targeted proteomics by LC-MS/MS to detect frequently used non-vegan fining agents. It is accurate, sensitive, and specific – with a low risk of false negative results.

The FACTS SA vegan wine screen is specifically designed to detect the proteins tropomyosin, casein, ovalbumin, lysozyme C, and collagen types 1 and 2, which are all components of major fining agents used in wine production.

The FACTS SA laboratory offers industry-leading testing services, and our multi-disciplinary team of experts understands the importance of choosing an approach to achieve your testing objectives. The vegan wine-screening test may greatly contribute to product integrity and brand assurance.

Contact FACTS SA for more information on the range of vegan screening services it offers.