We first met author, entrepreneur, and vegan wine expert Claire Brachet in Paris, where she hosted a special wine event for our Vegan Food Lover's Tour of Paris. Since then, we've been lucky to collaborate with Claire on additional projects, including next October's French Wine Country à la Vegan tour in the beautiful southwest of France. We recently caught up with Claire and she let us ask her all of our burning questions about vegan wine—which, along with cute-animal videos and home-made bread, is giving us a sense of comfort in these unsettling times. We hope you'll enjoy our chat as much as we did, and that you'll learn something new, too!
Q: How did you become a vegan wine expert?
A: With paternal grandparents who were winemakers and maternal grandparents who were restaurateurs, I have always lived in a context where the search for good food and wine were important.
When I became vegan, I realized two things: First, there was no information available focused on vegan food-and-wine pairing, and second, that wine could contain strange products in addition to grapes. I started to do personal research and, little by little, over time and with effort, I developed my own skill.
Q. How is vegan wine different from conventional wine?
A. Whether we drink it or not, we all have an idea of what wine is: an alcoholic version of grape juice. However, in conventional wine productions, you can find dozens of other ingredients in varying doses. As for example, traces of phytosanitary products (such as pesticides or herbicides) used for the treatment of the vine.
Outside the vineyard, other products are used at all stages of wine making. So, in addition to the grapes, you can find these products in your glass of wine:
Residues of products used for the treatment of the vine
Traces of the products used on the harvested grapes
Traces of the products added to wine to modify its appearance, to preserve the wine, and additives that produce a standardized wine
In conventional winemaking, animal products are introduced during a very specific step: Fining. This takes place just before bottling, in order to stabilize and clarify the wine (note that we do the same with fruit juice). During fermentation, the grapes decompose, the yeasts live and die, and all this leaves residues and proteins in the wine. Thus, a wine that hasn't been fined might appear cloudy because these elements haven't been removed. However, consumers are sensitive to the clarity of what they drink. When fining agents are added, they bind with the proteins and other residue in the wine and form flakes which sink to the bottom of the containers and are easily removed. In the end, the wine is clearer and brighter.
Standard fining agents include:
Gelatin from the collagen of pigs' skin and bones
Albumin from egg white
Casein from milk
Fish glue from the swim bladder of fish
Alginates, derived from algae
Common veg-friendly fining agents:
Silica sol (solution derived from silicic acid)
Q: Do grape varieties, or cepages, come in and out of vogue in France? If so, what’s trending right now?
A. Fashion is not about a specific grape variety, but rather to a trend that has been gradually gaining importance in recent years, which are the heirloom and native grape varieties. They are significant not only because they are old, but because they are often much better suited to the environment and climatic conditions than the more famous "imported" grape varieties (sauvignon, chardonnay, etc.). And also because they help maintain biodiversity that is essential for the survival of all species, starting with insects and small mammals that live in the vineyards. Among these vintage grape varieties, we can cite Mauzac roux, Alicante Bouschet, César or Loin-de-l'oeil.
Q. In le Guide Brachet, the guide to French vegan wines that you authored, you share food-and-wine pairing ideas. What kind of wine would you pair with a meal built around spring vegetables?
A. For the return of green vegetables—beans, peas, asparagus—A Sauvignon blanc is always a good match. With spring also comes the time for dinners in the garden and barbecues, often spicy. This is the perfect occasion for a Syrah.
Q. As the the founder of Double V - Vin et Végétal, you organize fun events throughout France centered around vegan food and wine. What kind of people do your events attract?
A. People who participate in my events have very varied backgrounds, and this is essential for me. I don’t just want to speak to a small group of people who are already convinced of the importance of veganism and anti-speciesism. I prefer to open minds and downplay diet change while showing that plant-based food can be delicious and convivial.
Q. Next fall, you’re co-hosting French Wine Country à la Vegan, a weeklong tour for oenophiles through Bordeaux’s picturesque wine region. What kind of wines will guests be sipping?
A. During this tour, we will discover wines from Southwest France—Bordeaux wines of course, but above all a wide variety of lesser known but equally tasty appellations. This French region is both humid and sunny, which gives generous and varied wines. We will taste red wines, white wines, rosé wines, sweet wines, as well as sparkling wines. In other words, a very wide range that will please even the most demanding wine lovers.
Q. We hear a lot about terroir; what is it, and will guests learn about terroir on the tour?
A. Terroir is a very French concept, with no real English translation, so it’s a bit difficult to explain. To put it simply, we can say that a terroir is a piece of territory, of very variable size, which presents a certain geological and meteorological homogeneity. To this, you have to add a specific culture (culinary, artistic, agricultural ...) and common customs.
During our stay in the Southwest of France, we will explore different terroirs: Bordeaux, Durassian, Perigord. As we explore each area, we will discover its terroir and notice that the character is different, that there is always a very special culinary distinction, and that even the accents of the people we meet will change.
Q. One last question: Why is 2020 a good time to visit France?
A. Every year is a good year to visit France.