Over the years Saint Clair winery has been working with how we can improve our ways of limiting the use of animal-based products as fining agents in the process of creating our wine.
Even the most experienced wine drinkers may be unclear on the effects the fining process has on the wine. This is important as it takes away unpleasant elements such as bitterness, astringency and odors that can result from the fermentation of grapes, giving the wine a softer mouthfeel, improved aroma, and a cleaner, brighter appearance in the glass.
Just as adding milk to tea reduces the bitterness from the tea tannins, adding a small amount of protein will fine out the wine tannins and ‘phenolics’.
Fining is quite a simple process. The winemaker pours a small quantity of the fining agent into the tank which bonds to suspended particles including dead yeast cells, tannins, and grape fragments, causing them to slowly sink to the bottom. Some tannins are desirable in wines, especially red wines, as they add structure to the wine. Too much can make the wines unpleasant to drink (like when you leave a teabag in your tea for too long).
When the wine is ‘racked’ from one tank to another, the sediment is left behind and discarded. The wine is then filtered, and all traces of the fining agent are removed. Traditionally, animal proteins, such as egg white and milk are used as fining agents. There are synthetic fining agents available and permittable in winemaking, and there are now also an increasing number of plant-based fining agents available, for example, pea protein.
At Saint Clair, we do sometimes fine our wines, although this is dependent on variety, vineyard site and vintage. We only fine wines when absolutely necessary to improve quality. We are very careful when fining, as positive flavours and aromas can also be removed if the protein is over-added, and as previously mentioned, some tannin is desirable for structure. Our approach at Saint Clair is to put exceptional care into managing the crop in our vineyards, to reduce excessive or undesirable phenolics in our grapes, limiting the need for fining.
At Saint Clair we try to use non-animal sourced fining agents wherever possible. After years of trialing, we have found that fresh local egg whites are usually the only gentle and effective way to fine red wines when required. Occasionally fresh skim milk is the most suitable way to fine our white wines, however this is only used on rare occasions. As red wines are fermented as whole grapes, skins, seeds, and all, and are then aged in barrel, some will need fining. For white wines, the grape juice is pressed from the skins and seeds as soon as the grapes arrive at the winery, so they generally need less fining.
While the fining process will ensure the final wine is clear, the aromas are showcased beautifully, and the wine has a lovely mouthfeel, laboratory testing ensures the finished wine does not contain any traces of the fining agent. The use of egg whites or milk therefore should not affect allergy sufferers, however the fining agent is stated on the back labels of our wines.
Our Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc wines are always all vegetarian and vegan friendly, as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc grapes have very few phenolic characters.
Saint Clair is always looking to make many small improvements along the way, which add up to a better end-product.
How do we read the information on the label?
When using milk products or egg whites as a fining agent, despite there being no traces of these products in the finished wines, Saint Clair declares the use of them in production on the back labels. Saint Clair does this as a way to keep consumers informed. Some vegetarians, vegans and allergy sufferers may be concerned when an animal product is used in production regardless of whether the finished wine contains any trace. Saint Clair also labels wines as vegetarian or vegan friendly when they have had no animal products used in production, so look out for this on the back label. A particular wine may require fining one year and not the next, so labels are updated each year.