Organic/Vegan Wine 101

Vegan Wine

The majority of people are unaware that wine, although made from grapes, may have been made using animal-derived products. During the winemaking process, the liquid is filtered through substances called “fining agents.” This process is used to remove protein, yeast, cloudiness, “off” flavors and colorings, and other organic particles. Popular animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes). OWL’s vegan friendly wines use alternatives such as, carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel, and vegetable plaques.


Organic Wine

Grapes that are certified organic under the USDA National Organic Program must be grown, handled and processed in accordance with uniform national standards. The entire production cycle, from grape in the field to wine in the bottle has been done in a way that promotes ecological balance, conserves biodiversity, and uses unadulterated ingredients. Growers producing certified organic grapes must pass a certification inspection every year. No synthetic pesticides or chemical herbicides are used to produce wine certified organic. No sulfites are added. Native yeasts can be used but are not mandatory. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may not be used.


Conventional Wine (we are proud to say we don’t carry any of these wines) 

Conventionally-produced wine allows a lengthy list of chemical additives. There are no labeling requirements, except for the requirement to list sulfites. Pesticides and herbicides are used in the grape growing process and remain in the wine after it is bottled. See our pesticide fact sheet for more information. Conventionally grown grapes may be treated with chemicals to deal with pests, like any other agricultural product. A variety of chemical agents are added to the wine to slow down or speed up fermentation, adjust the sugar content, color, and mouth feel. Sulfites are added to stabilize the wine, in amounts up to 300 ppm.


Biodynamic Farming 

A vineyard certified Biodynamic will meet and usually exceed the standards for certified organic farming. Biodynamic farming, which came to prominence in the 1920s, was defined by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian professor and philosopher. It involves a deep connection to and respect for the land. Biodynamic farming techniques do not allow synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, growth stimulants or GMOs. Sulfites may be present only in amounts less than 100 ppm. Limited chemical additives are permitted. Only native yeasts are used. Crop rotation is practiced and biodiversity is respected


Sustainable Farming

Refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. (Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.) Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.


Made With Organic Grapes

This means that the grapes used are grown organically, and production of the wine must be in accordance with standards set by the National Organic Program (NOP). No chemical pesticides or chemical herbicides are allowed,  but less than 100 parts per million (ppm) sulfites may be used. Processing additives approved by the NOP may also be used. Among the most common are acadia gum, oak chips, pectolytic enzymes and tannins. Native yeasts can be used but are not mandatory. GMO yeast is not used, but GMOs may have been present in the growing medium used to cultivate the yeast.  Some winemakers choose to have their grapes certified by a state agency such as CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers), but do not become certified as USDA organic producers – these producers are do not have “Made With Organic Grapes” on their labels.


Organic Agriculture

The United States sets Federal Standards for labeling food products with the Organic in name. All agricultural products must meet strict standards that are verified by a third party.  Wine is also governed by these laws and in order to be called Organic Wine or Made with Organic Wine the wine also must be made in a certified Organic Facility and follow the set guidelines for making the wine.  The NOP or National Organics Program governs these processes and approve all additives to the wine.


Fining Agents

Are added to the wine to help clarify and stabilize it.  They carry through the wine where they pick up solid matter and eventually descended to the bottom of the barrel, tank, etc.. Once the fining agent has settled at the bottom, a siphoning process takes place, removing the wine and leaving the fining behind.  The wine is left clear and stabilized, containing no traces of the fining agent. Popular animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes).  Bentonite is a clay used as an alternative (vegan friendly). 


GMO (Genetically modified organism) (we’re proud to say we don’t carry any of these wines)

-GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. They are experimental combinations of genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not allowed in organic or biodynamic wine production. But in conventional winemaking GMOs can play a role. A GMO strain of yeast used in winemaking has government approval and is on the market. GMO wine grapes have been made in labs but are not yet on the market.


**Although a winery may produce an organic wine, not all are “officially” certified.  Many wineries don’t get certified because of the extra cost of getting approval from a Government or other certifying organization.  It’s important to remember that organic certification by a reputable third party is not an easy process.  There are strict guidelines and time requirements for a vineyard to become organic. We still support organic wineries who opt out of the “official” organic process and are happy to share them with everyone.  Our distributors have deemed every wine we purchase and sell organic.  Taking it a step further, the OWL team has personally contacted each winery to double check. We’ve provided a list of terms and definitions to help further educate our community.  We’ve spent many hours reading, talking, listening, visiting, and of course tasting, in order to provide you with a list we can be proud of. Please enjoy responsibly.