Interview: Organic Vegan Wine with Vintage Roots

Whilst we do not agree with the maxim, ‘everything in moderation’ we also don’t agree that certain things are a necessary evil when it comes to a health conscious lifestyle. One of those things is wine. We like it, we drink it and we encourage others to investigate the ethical and healthy options of a drink that they may not otherwise want to give up.

So, where should we start when it comes to sourcing better quality, vegan wines? We recommend an established company who knows what they are doing and care about why they are doing it.

Known as “the organic wine people”, Vintage Roots was founded in 1986 by Neil Palmer and Lance Pigott, who still run the business today. Their passion for good quality, organic wine is evident, they exclusively sell organic wines and 95% of those are vegan. For those of us wishing to avoid added sulphites, they have an adequate selection that can be found via their search tool. Helpfully reviews from other customers are shown for every wine they sell which helps with selection. We also found their prices to be lower than health food shops and other online retailers selling speciality wines.

Our three recommendations from their vegan and no added sulphite wines are:

Albet i Noya Nosodos Sparkling, £16.99

This sparkling wine from Penedès in Spain where the grapes are harvested by hand and vinified in an oxygen-free, 100% hygienic process is a clean and fruity wine with a light fizz. Aged for a year, this wine is made in limited quantities.

IGT Marca Trevigiana Pinot Grigio, £8.99

Another light and flavourful wine with a clean taste, this wine has a beautiful deep colour and a smooth, freshness that is infused with subtle hints of peach and apricot. A soft wine, this is lighter than most Pinot Grigio.

Waverley Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, £9.90

The grapes for this wine are carefully hand picked and destemmed on the Waverley Hills organic vineyards where the unique flora of the area gives each wine a unique herbaceous character. This smooth wine tastes pure and light and is incredibly easy to drink.

We spoke to Vintage Roots about the benefits of organic wine, what makes wine vegan and the facts about sulphur.

When did you start selling specialised wines?

On 4th November 1986 Vintage Roots was officially born, we were not wine experts or businessmen, but had a yearning to create something for ourselves and put our energy into something we really believed in. In those early days the whole concept of ‘organic’ was little understood.

Wine is bottled history, flavours of a summer long gone.

We set out with almost evangelical zeal to convert the UK wine drinking public onto the benefits of drinking organic wine. From the mid 1990s onwards sales started to flourish as the organic movement gathered pace and various major public health scares hit the headlines. We list over 400 organic wines, beers and spirits, many of which are well respected award winners and service a diverse spectrum of customers across the whole UK, as well as export to seven countries.

Why organic?

Health: danger of pesticides and their residues for both the drinker and producer. Environment: protecting soils, water and biodiversity. Taste: using fewer chemicals encourages more attention to the vines and lets the ‘terroir’ come through to the wine.

The rise of natural wines, orange wines, biodynamic wines and No Sulphur added (NS) wines, is adding vibrancy and real interest to the wine market and in particular for a whole new generation of wine drinkers.

To have a wide range is one thing but to have a wide range of quality goods is quite another. Every item that appears on our list is tasted at one of our many tastings throughout the year and constantly reviewed for quality. They are tasted ‘blind’, amongst many others of their type. In this way, we are not influenced by price, or the ‘reputation’ of a particular producer. We are simply focused on choosing what we find to be the best for you in terms of flavour, interest, quality and value for money.

We recognise that in the very running of our business, we have some adverse impacts on the environment and that we too must be responsible for reducing our impact.

What we do:

  • Continue to trade solely with certified organic suppliers, and encourage sound environmental performance across their products, goods and services.
  • Develop our offering of Fair Trade organic wines & beverages.
  • Where possible use other ethical and green suppliers for all our business needs, from ‘banking’ to ‘boiling the kettle’.
  • Minimise our carbon footprint and offset the rest.
  • Maintain Vintage Roots Ltd as a carbon neutral company with a DEFRA recognised supplier
  • Offset carbon emissions against all our wine imports worldwide using accredited schemes, where possible in developing countries.
  • Raise awareness of environmental issues among our team, and guide and encourage them to pursue best practice.
  • Employ sound waste management practises, including compliance with the requirements of the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) regulations. All cardboard, paper, and glass is segregated and sent for recycling.
  • Use Greenhouse Graphics for all our print and fulfilment services, who specialise in sustainable printing and are one of only a handful print centres in the UK that are EMAS accredited. This internationally recognised accreditation is widely regarded as the ultimate environmental accrediation for businesses and organisations
  • Regularly review and look to continually improve our environmental performance.

What makes a wine not vegan?

In winemaking, the part where fermented wine is cleared of its sediment is called fining (or clarification). Quite frequently if nature is allowed to take its course, any sediment particles will settle naturally over time at the bottom of any storage tanks, after which the clear wine can be racked off.
Waiting (can be many months) is sometimes not an option, so the winemaker may need to use one of a variety of fining products to drop through the wine to clarify it.

The benefits of an organic lifestyle seem to be reaching an ever widening audience.

However, some fining agents contain animal gelatin, or fish based products (isinglass for example is made from fish air bladders). When egg white or a similar milk based product is used, the wine is fine for vegetarians, but not vegans. An inert clay called bentonite is now commonly used, which is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

What is the difference between ‘sulphite free’ and ‘no added sulphites’?

Sulphur dioxide is the most widely used and controversial additive in winemaking. It’s used as an antiseptic to kill off unwanted moulds, bacteria and yeasts and as an antioxidant to inhibit oxygen spoiling the wine.

Sulphur derivatives or sulphites occur in 99.9% of all wines in varying amounts (there’s essentially no such thing as ‘sulphite free’ wine) and it’s law to include a ‘contains sulphites’ advice on all wine labels where there’s over ten parts per millon in the wine. Up to this level it’s produced naturally as a by-product of the fermentation process itself.

Sulphur certainly isn’t a bonus for us to ingest in wine but it can be in most circumstances a ‘necessary evil’ so we can enjoy a relatively clean tasting product. However, for an increasing number of people, it can cause allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches and a heightened groggy ‘morning after’ feeling.
The good news is that there are positive choices as all certified organic and biodynamic wines contain lower maximum levels of sulphites than ‘conventionally’ produced wines.

With better hygiene, and new techniques spurred on by an increasing demand, it is possible to make great wines with ‘no added sulphur’. Still rare, it takes skill to do so but the totally unsullied, living wine can be a revelation.

How much has the market for organic and vegan wines grown in the past few years?

Since 1986 we have traded solely in wines that we believe are of the highest authentic quality, originating from low impact producers that actively sustain and enrich their environments.

A sustainable, non chemical approach to viticulture and winemaking.

Our sales have increased by around 10-15% over the last two years and there are many new restaurants and wholefood shops with an organic focus.

Do these labels (organic, vegan and sulphite free) add any quality to the wine or are they just preferences?

None of these are guaranteed to make a wine better; unfortunately there can be bad organic wines, just as there can be bad ‘conventional’ wines. However, organic producers tend to be smaller and the fact they can’t rely on chemicals to deal with issues (e.g. mildew) means they often have to take more care in the vineyard and take preventative measures which can lead to a higher quality wine.

One common example is that organic vineyards will often be full of life, with wild flowers and other crops in between the rows of vines. This is to encourage ‘pests’ to leave the vines alone, rather than using pesticides.

What should we be looking for when we buy wine?

Certification is key, as many producers, or retailers may claim a wine is ‘organic’ or made ‘using organic methods’ but unless the wine is certified then the consumer really doesn’t know whether that’s true. Look for the ‘green leaf’ logo on European wines (the same appears on organic food).

Our values, our energy and our passion for good wine and for organic produce remain as strong as ever.