Regardless of our many shortcomings, humans are incredibly inventive and imaginative. Thousands of years ago, we knew of this berry that at certain times of year ripened into something sweet and delicious. When stored in large vessels, some magic happened. The naturally occurring yeasts in the air and on the berries combined with the sugars in the fruit, this added with the wonder of time created a marvellous beverage. The drink was and is wine. The history of winemaking is a fascinating subject and although it is not the subject of this blog post, it does highlight the way in which wine was made for many hundreds of years, barely unchanged.
We maintained our ingeniousness throughout wines history. If there was an early frost that affected the grapes, we made Eiswein rather than see crop failure. If the grapes were accidentally left in the sun and shrivelled up we made things like Pedro Ximenez; a barrel of wine exposed to excessive heat whilst on board a ship traversing the world's oceans? Why, I'll have some of your finest Madeira please! The examples are endless, most all fortified, sherried or sweet wines were created by happy accident.
The method of wine production was for most of its history a simple but inexact process, and the end results varied greatly year on year. The introduction of commercially made wines led to a desire for a predictable product. Over the centuries many strange substances have been added to wine in order to achieve this stability.
Primarily, a substance is added to a wine to help stabilize and clarify it. Preservatives are also added to prevent spoilage. A fining agent can remove yeasts and proteins, which can cause the wine to look cloudy. They can also be used to remove excessive tannins in harsh young red wines. Fining agents include albumen, casein, isinglass which is derived from fishes swim bladders, chitosan, which is made from crustacean shells, and gelatine.
Most young wines, if left long enough under good conditions, would eventually reach the same state of clarity as fining can achieve within months, but fining saves money for the producer and therefore the consumer. Consequently, it has been more commercially made wines that tended to have such fining agents used.
Again, the adaptability of the humans comes into play as more and more producers are turning to animal friendly methods in their wine making. Why exclude an increasing number of your potential customer base unnecessarily? Alternatives include; bentonite clay, carbon, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, vegetable plaques, and silica gel.
Current EU regulations state that any fining agent used should be declared an allergenic substance so it is quite easy for retailers to find out what has been used in any particular wine's production. A supplier should have an allergen file with details from the producer as to what potential allergens, and therefore animal substances, have been used in production.
With increasing interest in plant based diets we asked our suppliers to furnish us with this information so we could pass it on to customers. As we focus on organic and biodynamic wines is has been a pleasant surprise to discover that in addition the large majority of our wines are vegan friendly. The trend towards less commercially made wines makes it fairly easy to find producers that make lovely well made wines without the need for animal based fining products.
Author: Ruth Farnon