We’ve been approached by many of our wonderful friends around the world, enquiring whether our wines contain animal products and are vegan or vegetarian friendly.
The short answer is all our Sauvignon Blancs (which is our flagship wine) are free from animal products.
And while animal products, such as egg whites or skim milk are used in the fining process, the finished wine will not contain any traces, so vegetarians and people with allergies should be fine.
All our wines are clearly labelled so there’s no need to guess, but we thought it a worthy subject to investigate more closely.
Enter our assistant white winemaker Heather Stewart (who also happens to be a vegetarian) to explain exactly what the Saint Clair fining process entails.
What is fining and why is it necessary?
Fining is a very common and valuable winemaking procedure, which reduces the phenolics and tannins in wines. These tannins, which come from the grape seeds and skins and oak barrels, are experienced as bitterness, pithiness (as in citrus pith), furriness, or astringency. Some tannins are desirable in wines, especially red wines, as they add structure to the wine. Too much can make the wines unpleasant to drink (like when you leave a tea bag in your tea for too long).
Can you tell us a bit about Saint Clair’s approach to fining?
Just as adding milk to tea reduces the bitterness from the tea tannins, adding a small amount of protein will fine out the wine tannins. At Saint Clair we often fine our wines, although this is dependent on variety, vineyard site and vintage. We are very careful when fining, as positive flavours and aromas can also be removed if the protein is over-added, and as mentioned, some tannin is desirable for structure. There are synthetic fining agents available and permitable in winemaking, however at Saint Clair we usually prefer to use fresh local egg whites to fine red wines and fresh skim milk to fine our white wines. As red wines are fermented as whole grapes, skins, seeds and all, and are then aged in barrel, some will need fining. For white wines the grape juice is pressed from the skins and seeds as soon as the grapes arrive at the winery, so they generally need less fining, and only some of our white wines require fining.
Occasionally, for particular tannins, we may fine with fish protein or gelatin.
What happens to the fining agents during the process?
Any fining agents added react with the tannins and then drop out to the bottom of the tank. The wine is then racked off the fining agent before being filtered, which removes any trace of the fining agent. We have our wines tested at an accredited laboratory to ensure that no traces of the animal proteins remain in the wine. This is due to respect for people with allergies and those who choose a vegetarian or vegan diet. The tests detect to a limit which is below the threshold of allergies.
As a strict vegetarian myself, I will drink wines that have been fined with animal products, even gelatin, as the filtration process removes all the fining product, and even microorganisms!
How do we read the information on the label?
Even though no traces of milk or egg whites remain in the finished wines, Saint Clair declares the use of them in production on the back labels as we want consumers to be informed. Some vegans may be concerned when an animal product is used in production regardless of whether the wine actually contains any. Saint Clair also labels our wines as vegetarian or vegan friendly when they have had no animal products used in production, so look out for this on our labels. A particular wine may require fining one year and not the next, so labels are updated each year. It is our policy to always make all our Sauvignon Blancs vegetarian and vegan friendly.
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