Your questions about our new wine menu, answered
As part of rolling out our new drinks menu, we did a lot of research into the ethics and sustainability of wine production; we figured we'd share some of the questions we found answers to here!
Why would wine not be vegan?
Good question! The wine-making process includes a stage called "fining," when various agents are used to remove impurities from the wine—some of these products are derived from animals, some are not. We've committed to only serving vegan wine at Red Emma's, and one thing we can tell you is that it is often very difficult to figure out whether or not a wine is vegan if the vineyard has not made a similar commitment and labeled their bottles accordingly. Barnivore, which is a crowdsourced directory of correspondence between vegan consumers and winemakers on this question, is an invaluable resource!
Why would wine not be gluten free?
Good question! And this one has an even weirder answer. Apparently, wine stored in barrels, e.g., to "oak" it, can sometimes pick up trace amounts of gluten—if the cooper's special recipe for sealing those barrels involves a wheatpaste. Any wine produced in stainless steel should be fine. We carry at least one certified gluten free wine for customers with extreme gluten sensitivity, if you are merely somewhat sensitive, you should be ok with drinking most wine, since the quantities of gluten are very small.
What are sulfites?
Sulfites are naturally occurring sulfur-based compounds that are produced as part of the wine-making process, and which have the ability to act as an effective preservation agent. They are so effective at this job, in fact, that extra sulfites are often added to wine to help it keep longer. Unfortunately, a few people have negative reactions to sulfites, and many more blame sulfites for their red wine headaches. To be accommodating, we're carrying one wine that's processed after fermentation to remove event the naturally occurring sulfites (a "no detectable sulfites" wine), and at least one wine which is explicitly labeled that no additional sulfites have been added. For wines that are certified 100% organic, usually the addition of sulfites is forbidden. But this may not be the case with wines "made from organic grapes."
Why don't you have any cooperatively-produced wine?
Not for lack of trying! First off, as in most agricultural sectors, the kind of cooperatives you usually find are cooperatives of small producers—not worker cooperatives. Just because the wine is "cooperative" doesn't mean the people doing the picking and processing are treated well. There are some great wine cooperatives, for instance the Riunite coop in Emilia Romagna (the region of Italy where a huge chunk of the economy is under cooperative ownership!), but their hugely popular Lambrusco is sadly not vegan. Another problem here is that cooperative wine in the European context sometimes has a bad reputation; there has historically been a tendency for cooperative winemaking to result in lower quality, since vineyards might send their less exciting grapes to be bottled at the cooperative, keeping the choicest grapes for their own vintages.
Why don't you have any fair trade certified wine?
Not for lack of trying! Although not as popular as fair trade in the coffee world, there are some great vineyards which are certified internationally as doing business in a way which supports the workers well; La Riojana in Argentina and Stellar in South Africa are two great examples. Unfortunately, the demand in the US just isn't as high as in Europe (in the UK, for instance, the Co-operative's network of grocery stores has created a fairly substantial market by itself!). Because alcohol is a heavily regulated industry at the state level, we sadly can't just arrange to import wines ourselves, and have to work with the existing distribution infrastructure in Maryland. Moral of the story: if, like us, you want Red Emma's to be able to carry fair trade wine, go to your local wine store and ask for fair trade certified wine so we create enough demand to make it worth some distributor getting on board!
What does the rest of the certification landscape look like?
There's a number of other certifications, especially relating to sustainability. Internationally, the IMO (Institute for Marketecology) maintains a number of certfiications relating to sustainable practices and social responsibility. In the US, there's a number of levels of certification; wine can be entirely USDA organic, which means that all the inputs are organic, or "made with organic grapes," which allows for small amounts of nonorganic inputs during processing. Really sustainable farms can be certified biodynamic, which goes beyond "no artificial ingredients" to certifiably sustainable farming practices in harmony with nature. At the state level, more certifications proliferate; for instance, in Washington State, special certfication exists to mark vineyard practices regarding inputs and runoff as "salmon safe." So basically, it's a huge tangle of alternative certifications all under a regulatory apparatus that makes it difficult for an individual restaurant like ourselves to easily take the highest road that's theoretically possible; so we're starting with wines that are vegan and at least made with organic grapes, and hoping to work our way up the ladder as we grow the menu.