I first became aware of vegan wines about five years ago when I was tasting at a winery in Healdsburg, just off the square. All of the wines on their tasting sheets were labeled as vegan, organic, biodynamic, or a combination of them all (there are issues with that, but that's for another blog post). At that point I thought that was interesting, but promptly forgot about it until about 2006, when we started making our own wines for Foursight.
Having studied wine a bit I understood that animal products were used in the process at some wineries -- for fining in particular. The basic idea is that these animal-derived products settle down to the bottom of the tank with the large particles and the wine is racked off of the lees (sediment) in the bottom. Most wineries nowadays filter, which means that any parts of anything should definitely be caught by a sterile filtration. However, that doesn't solve the problem for vegans worried about the ethical issues involving animal products.
When we started making wines, we started with the idea that we simply like unfined and unfiltered Pinot Noirs better. So, that issue was solved for our Pinot Noirs. As for our Sauvignon Blanc, we did choose to fine it to make sure that nothing precipitates out when the bottle is chilled. When fining whites you have several choices - bentonite (from clay), isinglass (sturgeon swim bladder), and a few other, less common fining agents (from egg, milk, even animal blood -- the last one being illegal in the US, thanks).
For us, the decision to use bentonite only on our SB (no fining on the Semillon) was that we not only wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the wines, but that we also preferred the bentonite when it came to the quality of our wines. So, it worked out perfectly.
What got me started on this issue recently was that a very nice editor from Vegetarian Times came to call a few weeks ago, writing a story on vegan wines. When you search online for vegan wines you get a wealth of knowledge about the issue -- one that most people don't realize is even an issue. And that's sad. Wine is supposed to be a natural product, and that's something we stick to here.
So, long story short, surprise to those who thought they knew us, Foursight is vegan! And proud of it.