Sunday, September 16, 2018

Vegan Wine Tasting in Napa!

Photo of five glasses of wine at an outdoor wine tasting at Far Niente winery in Napa.

#VeganMoFo18 Day 16 - Vegan Wine Tasting in Napa!

Alan and I have just returned from a marvelous trip to the Napa Valley for a wine tasting weekend with friends. The vines are full of luscious grapes that are just days from harvesting, probably starting tomorrow. We had excellent weather, great wine, and great food.

Wine is one of those things people don't realize can have hidden animal products in. Animal products are often added to wine as fining agents. Fining agents are added for a number of different reasons, to make it less astringent or bitter, clarify the wine, or change the color, thus changing the wine through a chemical reaction. There are several commonly used fining agents, according to the Australian Wine Research Institute and Washington State University (those marked with an asterisk (*) are derived from animals:
  • Gelatin*, made from animal bones, cartilage, skin, horns, and hooves
  • Isinglass*, a collagen derived from fish swim bladders
  • Albumen*, egg white
  • Casein*, a milk protein
  • Skim milk*
  • Bentonite, a very fine clay of aluminum-silicate (vegan)
  • Activated Carbon, made from peat, coal, wood, petroleum, or coconut shells (vegan)
  • Polyvinylpolyprrolidone (PVPP), a plastic (vegan)
  • Copper Sulfate, an inorganic compound of copper and sulfur (vegan)

The fining agents don't remain in the wine, they are precipitated or filtered out at some point prior to bottling. 

US wines are not required to disclose fining ingredients on their bottles. The only mandatory labeling requirements include: brand name, type of wine (table, dessert, or sparkling), percentage of alcohol, name and address of the bottler, net contents, whether it contains sulfites, and the government warning about birth defects and impairment. If you want to know whether or not your wine is vegan, you will have to ask the winemaker. Or, you can check the Barnivore app, a database of over 40,000 wines, beers, and spirits where you can determine whether a specific brand/varietal is vegan or not. They do not indicate whether PVPP is used, however, PVPP is not allowed in organic wine, so wines that are voluntarily labeled organic will not have PVPP. Here is a great info sheet from Rosnay Organic Wines for more information on PVPP .

We went to four different wineries during our trip with vegan wines. None of them are certified organic as I wasn't aware of PVPP and the implication of organic certification of wine until I was researching for this blog post. This will change our wine strategy in the future.

Gloria Ferrer

Photo of four empty champagne flutes and wine glass and tray of vegan food pairing at Gloria Ferrer winery in Sonoma.
Wine and Vegan Food Pairing at Gloria Ferrer
Gloria Ferrer makes sparkling and varietals in the Carneros American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Sonoma. We have been Gloria Ferrer wine club members for about 15 years and love their sparkling wine. The sparkling wine from Gloria Ferrer is vegan, but we are waiting to hear back on whether it is fined with PVPP. They are California certified sustainable, but not certified organic.

As club members, we were treated to a Bubbles and Bites tasting with appetizers and grounds tour. We requested vegan options when we made our reservation and they have beautiful vegan trays for us that matched the non-vegan tasters. The food was lovely and the chef offered to send the recipes so we could recreate the pairings at home. I will be updating this post with their recipes when they send them.

For the tasting we had their Royal Cuvée, Blanc de Blanc, Extra Brut, Brut Rosé, and Demi-Sec (all vegan) and there was a tasting of their Pinot Noir, which is not vegan. We love their sparkling wines and it was such a fun event!


Photo of glass of wine at outdoor wine tasting at Cuvaison winery in Napa.
Wine Tasting at Cuvaison
This was a new winery for us. Our friends enjoy their wine and wanted to check the winery out. The Cuvaison winery is located in Napa and their wines are from the Carneros and Mt. Veeder APAs. Their wine is vegan, but not certified organic. Cuvaison's winemaker reported via email that they do not use PVPP as a fining agent.

Our friends had reserved the Distinction Tasting with Cheese Pairing. They said they had a vegan option, but it was simply a small disk of Trader Joe's Nothing but Fruit Fig and Walnut snack in a plastic wrapper tossed on the table while our friends had a beautiful cheese platter. So that was disappointing. Fortunately, I had prepared a vegan wine tasting cheese and nut snack for our wine tasting tour day in our tiffin! I'd picked up some new vegan cheeses to try, including a Violife Cream Cheese Gorgonzola (which was my favorite!), Miyoko's Sundried Tomato Garlic Vegan Cheese Wheel, and Leaf Cuisine Smoky Gouda Dairy-free Spread at the Sacramento Natural Food's Co-op the day before. We brought the tiffin in the collapsible cooler I'd packed.

Photo three vegan cheeses (left) and tiffin containers of cashews and vegan cheeses we brought to wine tastings in Napa (right).
Vegan Cheese (left) and Tiffin with Cashews and Vegan Cheeses we Brought to Wine Tastings (right)

We tasted their Sauvignon Blanc, Methodé Béton; Chardonnay, ATS; Pinot Noir, Spire; Syrah; Zinfandel, Bald Mountain; and Cabernet Sauvignon, Brandlin Estate. Our friends really like the wine from this winery, but it wasn't much to our liking, which is totally okeveryone has different wine tastes!

Far Niente

Photo of a box containing a vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon from 2009-2014 at Far Niente winery in Napa.
2009-2014 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon 
This was a new winery for me, but Alan had tasted their wine before. They are located in Oakville, between Saint Helena and Yountville, and their winery is on the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest known intact bottle of California wine is an 1886 Far Niente Sweet Muscat. Their wine is vegan, but not organic, and we are waiting for response on PVPP use in their wine.

We had a private wine and cheese tasting here as well. And like before, no vegan options were available, so we had the cheese we brought to pair with the tasting. The location was beautiful out on a stone patio by a gorgeous landscaped pond and gardens. We tasted their Cave Collection Chardonnay, Enroute Pinor Noir "Les Pommiers," Estate bottled Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dolce. The wine was ok, but to me, not worth the wine-cult price range from $60-210 a bottle!

Chateau Montelena

Photo of ivy-covered Chateau Montelena winery in Napa.
Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena really put Napa wines on the world-wide wine map. They won the Judgment of Paris blind tasting wine competition in 1976, turning the wine world on it's head by beating out French wines, historically considered the best wines in the world. The story of this famous competition was told in the 2008 movie Bottle Shock

This was a spontaneous tasting, so we didn't have an appointment with a cheese pairing, which was totally fine! We tasted their Sauvignon Blanc, Cardonnay, Zinfandel, and Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. According to our tasting server, Chateau Montelena uses organic practices in their vineyard and wine production, but have not applied for organic certification; they do not use PVPP in their wine. We loved their wine and ordered some to be shipped home and signed up for their wine club. What I really love about Chateau Montelena is that even though they put Napa on the map, they are down-to-earth and unpretentious! Their wine was delicious and reasonably priced. I appreciate that.

Vegan wine is out there, and a lot of it is accidentally vegan. You can consult Barnivore or email wineries beforehand to find out whether their offerings are made with vegan products. We've found that winemakers love to talk about their wine, so don't be shy about inquiring. And, don't be afraid to ask for vegan options or to bring along your own vegan cheese pairing. None of the wineries batted an eyelash at us bringing vegan cheese and I think it'd important for them to see that people want/need different options at their tastings. The more we inquire and the more we are present with our food preferences, the more likely things are to change. 


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, it was a blast! I recommend this trip to everyone and anyone!