Champagne, just like any alcoholic beverage, goes through a multi-step process before it’s ready.
In fact, champagne is a blend of grapes from different vineyards. One could also say that champagne is sparkling wine because of the carbon dioxide.
However, for Champagne to be ‘champagne’, its origin must be in the northern champagne area of France. It must be made from the Pinot Meunier, Pinot noir, and Chardonnay grapes in this region.
Secondly, the process that gives champagne its bubbles must take place in the bottle from which the sparkler is eventually sold and drunk. In other words, Champagne is one of a kind.
Though, like many other alcoholic beverages, it may not be vegan.
Let’s have a closer look at it.
How Is Champagne Made?
At first glance, one would think that champagne is vegan. But to have the full story, it’s important to look at the process, and see whether that’s true or not.
This stage is very much similar to every wine-making process. You harvest the grapes and use a pressing device to extract juice from crushed grapes.
A press (not all) contains 4000 kilograms of grapes, from which 2.500 litters of juice are extracted. Typically, the first 2000 litters are viewed as the best juice, while the remaining juice is considered an inferior grade of juice.
At this stage, the juice is moved to a tank where the first fermentation takes place. This step results in an acidic wine that was fermented dry. In other words, the natural sugar within the grapes is fermented out of the wine.
This is probably the most crucial stage of the champagne making process. It’s where different types of grapes (from various vineyards) are blended.
This stage combines as many as 70 different base wines into a cuveé.
While this process usually includes the current vintage (or harvest), many champagne makers also rely on previous stocks of wine.
These older wines can add complexity and a sort of richness to the final blend.
Another essential step to making fine Champagne is this one. Once the wine is blended, it is combined with a mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast which accelerates the fermentation process.
That combination is then put into crown capped bottles that are stacked sideways between thin layers of wood. This fermentation process can take from three weeks to three months.
After the second fermentation is done, the sediment (created during fermentation at the tip of the bottle) is gathered. This is done with either a pupitre, or a gyropallette.
As depicted in the image above, the pupitre holds the neck of the bottles in a position between vertical and horizontal, with the neck pointing downward. It starts in a horizontal position and it gradually transitions into a position where it’s upside down.
The pupitre requires manual labor, as it must have a person to conduct that “transitional” process.
On the other hand, a gyropallette follow that same process (of turning the bottles upside down) automatically. Naturally, it also takes less time to accomplish than the former.
Aging the Champagne
This depends on the champaign. But typically, Vintage Champaigns (one that includes grapes from any of the top three grapes featured in Champagne — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier (or other heritage grapes)) — is generally aged for a minimum of three years.
As for non-vintage Champaigns (produced with grapes from multiple harvests and vineyards) — it takes at least 15 months to age, although many take between 18 and 30 months.
Once the champagne has aged, the sediment (accumulated close to the neck of the bottle) is ready to be removed. As such, the neck of the bottle is submerged in a freezing brine solution that solidifies the sediment.
This makes it easy for the sediment to be ejected from the bottle due to the internal pressure.
Here is a video that better illustrates the process:
The Final Touch (Dosage)
Lastly, the bottle is topped off with liqueur d’expédition — a sweet liquid that defines the final level of sweetness in the Champagne (or sparkling wine).
Though, of course, the recipe of the liqueur d’expédition varies based on the house.
Champagne Houses used to have mysterious recipes to make up their own liqueur d’expédition, using ingredients such as Port wine, Cognac, kirsch, framboise wine, alum solutions, tartaric acid, and tannins.
What is used today is a mixture of sugar, wine, brandy, ascorbic acid, citric acid, copper sulfate, as well as a few micrograms of sulfur dioxide as a preservative.
Why Champagne May Not Be Vegan
The reason champagne might not be vegan is because champagne is originally made with wine. Unfortunately, in many cases, winemakers add fining agents made from animal products.
The fining agents help soften or reduce the bitterness of the wine; remove the proteins capable of haze formation, or even reduce/change its color.
In fact, here are some of the most common fining agents, as well as reasons why champagne might not be vegan:
- Gelatin (It’s essentially the result after boiling animal parts)
- Casein (Milk protein)
- Isinglass (Fish bladder)
- Egg whites
- Skimmed milk
- and Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP).
Unfortunately, the first five I’ve mentioned are not vegan.
And quite sadly, it’s impossible to know whether or not the champagne contains those ingredients because that info is not available on the label.
Therefore, if you really want to know whether or not champagne contains some type of non-vegan fining agent, you have to personally contact the company.
But it’s not all bad things.
There are some companies that don’t use animal products at any point in the production process.
How to Easily Find Wine/Champagne Companies That Don’t Use Animal Ingredients.
Since it’s very troublesome to find whether or not XYZ brand of champagne is processed using animal-based ingredients, it’s very easy to give up on drinking champagne.
However, there is a website/app that does the work for you. The Barnivore Company reaches out to wine (and champagne) companies and gets the answers you’re looking for.
Plus, they have all that information available on their website for free.
Here are a few brands of champagne that are vegan:
- Dom Perignon
- Moet & Chandon
- Perrier-Jouët (excluding Grand Brut)
All of the above are approved by the Barnivore Company.
Verdict: Most Champagne is Vegan.
Most champagne brands are vegan, but you really have to look out for the brands that use fining agents such as gelatin, casein, egg whites, isinglass, and skimmed milk.
Fortunately, a resource such as the Barnivore is very helpful to figure out which Champagne brands are vegan. And believe me, many of them are.
If you really love Champagne (or wine), I would bookmark Barnivore, or even download the Barnivore app to your smartphone.
Thanks for reading!