American wineries are looking for ways to capture the attention and hearts of younger consumers. One key to success is to speak to these generations’ core values. For many wineries, that means making wines that are vegan, non-allergenic, organic, or sustainably made and packaged — or all of those things. Whichever combination they choose means changing how they grow grapes, make wines, and prepare and market them.
Vineyards spend years revising their farming practices to gain certified organic designations. Winemakers switching to vegan wine must evaluate additives to ensure none were sourced from animals, birds, or fish.
Seeking certification for organic, vegan, or sustainable wines demands viticulturists, winemakers, and bottlers to examine and often measure progress in every step of their process. They must consider water and energy usage, carbon footprint, and packaging alternatives like lighter bottles or flat, stackable cartons. They have to ensure workers are treated fairly in their vineyards and facilities and also at the places from which they source materials. They may study the entire environmental landscape, appraising how their farming and winemaking practices impact the surrounding forests and wildlife.
Winemaking additives are part of that consideration set. Vegan fining additives are from plant-based sources rather than animals, fish, or birds. Also colloidal stabilizers remove the high carbon footprint of cold stabilization. Many look for ideas at European wineries facing the same problems and often ahead in developing alternatives. For example, US winemakers still use animal-based products for wine fining, while the EU stopped using them years ago.
“Our new Italian CEO observed that some technological innovations that are standard in Europe weren’t available in the US because of TTB regulations,” says sales manager Libby Spencer of Enartis USA’s President & CEO, Francesco Bergaglio. “Years ago, the rest of the world replaced animal-based fining agents with plant-based fining agents. Similarly, the rest of the world has a product to manage calcium stability that we can’t use. That leaves US winemakers at a competitive disadvantage since imported wines offer US consumers more vegan and allergen-free options.”
Spencer explains that because electricity is so expensive in Europe, Enartis offers two products that revolutionized cold stabilization. Their first-generation product, Cellogum LV20, uses carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) to inhibit potassium bitartrate crystal formation. It significantly reduces energy costs and processing times because the wines don’t need to be chilled. Their next-generation version, Zenith, is potassium polyaspartate (KPA). Zenith is a stronger stabilizer, is more filterable than CMC, it does not react with color, and is less reactive with protein. Both significantly reduce CO2 emissions, water usage, electricity and labor costs, when added to the wine before bottling.
US winemakers can use first-gen Cellogum for both domestic and export wines. However, despite being on the international market for four years, they can only use next-gen Zenith for domestic wines. The difference in availability between these two products is due to one of the most significant barriers preventing US winemakers from accessing new international winemaking developments — TTB regulations and an EU-US trade agreement that limits US export wines to TTB-approved additives (27 CFR 24.246) even if those additives are permissible in the EU.
“This matters because, even though America only exports 5% of its wine,” Spencer explains, “major wine producers don’t want to use products that would prevent them from being able to sell the wine in all channels, including exporting them if an opportunity arises.”
Spencer also shared other products of value for vegan and sustainable wines impacted by this availability roadblock:
Plant-based fining — Elsewhere in the world, winemakers use plant protein from potatoes and peas. In the US, TTB has approved potatoes but not peas, even though they are in many food products. Enartis’ Plantis product range uses both pea and potato protein. These products are vegan and allergen-free.
Calcium stabilization — ENOCRISTAL Ca is micronized calcium tartrate. Enocristal Ca acts as a crystallization nucleus, triggering the formation of calcium tartrate crystals and promotes calcium stability.
“Calcium stabilization is a big problem we’re seeing in the industry here and globally,” notes Spencer. “In the rest of the world, we have ENOCRISTAL Ca, but we can’t get it approved. People call every day looking for this, and I have to tell them, ‘We have it, but I can’t sell it to you.’ I encourage winemakers to contact the TTB to petition this product.”
The good news is that the TTB responded to an anti-trust executive order and shifted many products from the “domestic-only” list to the “you-can-export-it” list. The bad news is that it was a one-time change that left many valuable vegan and sustainable winemaking products on the domestic-use-only list. Winemakers who recognize the value of vegan and sustainable wines in attracting the younger generations should be clamoring for the TTB to approve them.