Living Vegan

A Toast to Vegan Wine

A vegan walks into a bar, gets a glass of the house red and says, barkeep, there’s fish bladder, pig hoof, egg and milk in my wine.

Um, it’s not a joke. Though you think wine equals grapes equals vegan, it may not be so. Winemakers often use isinglass (refined sturgeon bladder) to filter out grape seeds and skins. Dee-lish? Not so much. And not vegan, either.  Gelatin (pig or sometimes cow hoof), casein (milk protein), egg whites and other animalesque bits are likewise used in traditional wine filtration.

The good news — many wines are naturally, totally plant-based. They don’t require animal bits for processing. The bad news — it varies from winery to winery and from vintage to vintage. Finding a wine that’s truly vegan shouldn’t drive you to drink.

“It’s never clear and I feel people need to know,” says Cheryl Durzy, vice president of Clos LaChance Winery.  That’s why they’re producing The Vegan Vine. “We’re committed to being only vegan all the time.” This Central Coast winery makes a zesty, award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, a summery, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc and a bladder-free every day red. In addition to producing totally vegan wine, Clos LaChance is totally sustainable. “We were one of the first wineries to be certified as sustainable in early 2010.”

Certification is hard work that starts with passing a 290-point test. Then it’s a matter of maintaining practices from organic sprays to sustainable water usage — better for the land but more work for the winemakers. That’s okay by Durzy and her sister, who run the winery their parents started in 1992. “For a family business like us, when you’re sustainable, you’re going to be around for a long time.  You want to leave the land better than you found it. You don’t want to leave the next generation a big mess to clean up,” says Durzy, whose two children, ages four and eight, are literally growing up in the vineyard.

Clos LaChance also makes Mommy Juice  (does Durzy know a market niche or what?), but in total, the winery produces only 6,000 cases a year, most of which is The Vegan Vine. With this being the first year of The Vegan Vine production, we’re not talking about wines with decades of age, but don’t get your Robert Parker on. “Nothing drives me crazier than wine snobs,” says Durzy. “Wine can enhance life, can be healthy for you, has all these wonderful components.” These are wines meant to be enjoyed. Without meat.

You can thank the vegan daughter of a Clos LaChance employee for inspiring The Vegan Vine, but Durzy’s long been aware of “the beef industry’s impact on the atmosphere. “ She’s driven past “this huge cattle farm in Coalinga.  It smelled so bad.”

The Vegan Vine has made Durzy more conscious. And more meatless. “It’s helped me look at everything I do, how I buy my food, feed my family.  I talk to the growers, am more involved in the process in everything we can consume.” She’s a Meatless Monday convert and so’s her family. “My kids love it. I try to do different recipes every week.”

Quinoa tabbouli sparked with lemon and mint would be great with the citrus and mineral notes in The Vegan Vine’s Sauvignon Blanc. Today’s Meatless Monday recipe, chickpea-zucchini pancake with red onion jam plays up the earthiness and fruitiness in the Cabernet Sauvignon. Talk about your classic wine pairing — meatless meals tend to be wine-friendly and The Vegan Vine produces vegan-friendly wine. Cheers.

Ellen Kanner is the Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, the syndicated columnist The Edgy Veggie, and contributor  to publications including CulinateBon Appetit, and Every Day With Rachael Ray as  well as her own blog.
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