We routinely receive questions from our customers about the use of elderberries in making wine. Up to now we have had limited opportunities to conduct winemaking trials, but have recently found a supplier for high quality fruit. Our winemaker, Dave Salaba, is currently making a batch using the following recipe (incidentally, there are many recipes for elderberry wine in the literature. Dave has selected this one because of its simplicity). It will produce about 1 gallon finished wine:
- 3 lbs ripe elderberries, room temperature
- 3 lbs granulated sugar
- 3 ¾ quarts good quality tap or bottled drinking water (1 gallon jug is fine)
- 2 tsp acid blend (1 tsp acid blend = about 5 grams)
- 1½ tsp tartaric acid (1½ tsp tartaric acid = about 8.6 grams)
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient (about 6 grams)
- tsp dry pectic enzyme (about 1.5 grams)
- 1/8 tsp potassium metabisulfite powder (meta) (about 1.2 grams)
- 1 pkt either Premier Cuvee or D47 wine yeast
- small nylon straining bag & kitchen string
- primary fermenter ( a small food grade plastic bucket will be fine)
- Kitchen or winemaking thermometer
- Stainless steel or plastic stirring spoon
- Hydrometer and hydrometer jar
Begin by making a sugar solution using the water and sugar. Place in a pot and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly as it begins to boil. Careful!! Don’t try to taste the sugar solution while it’s cooking. It will be between 250 – 300 degrees and can cause severe burns. (Children and pets out of the kitchen while you are doing this). When the sugar has dissolved, turn off the heat and let it stay on the stove for the moment. Take the elderberries and inspect them to make sure that there are no large pieces of stem in the berry mixture. Small pieces aren’t harmful and will in fact add tannins to the wine, so don’t worry about these.
Put the elderberries into the straining bag. Tie closed with a piece of kitchen string and place into the fermenter. Since these berries have been frozen by the supplier, they have already begun to break down, which is what we want. You can also mash them lightly with a potato masher if you like. Carefully add the hot (not boiling) sugar/water mixture, cover and set aside to cool. Use the thermometer to determine when the temperature is about 95-98 degrees F. Then dissolve the acid blend, tartaric acid, yeast nutrient and meta in a little water in a cup and stir until dissolved. Add this mixture to the fermenter and stir a couple of times with the spoon. Let this soak overnight. The next morning, add the pectic enzyme and stir. At this point you’ll want to take a hydrometer reading and write it down on a piece of paper along with the date. The Brix/Balling reading should be about 24º. If you want to check the pH and TA, they will be about 3.1 to 3.3 and 0.5% respectively. Rehydrate the yeast using the Keystone instruction sheet as a guide and when ready, add gently to the fermenter – DO NOT STIR. Cover for 24 hours and then stir vigorously. During this time the yeast will benefit from the oxygen exposure. Cover and stir once or twice a day using a spoon. The fermentation should begin within 24-48 hours. Ferment for the next 10-14 days at room temperature. Don’t be afraid to give the bag a good poke or two each time you stir, as this will increase the flow of liquid thru the bag, which is what you want.
Take a hydrometer and temperature reading at least every other day and write this information on your paper along with the date. When the hydrometer reads 0º Brix/Balling or 0.990 S.G., you are ready to rack off. Using rubber gloves, remove the bag carefully and suspend over the fermenter using the string, letting the juice drip out of the bag until most has drained from the bag. Very gently press the bag to remove a little more juice but don’t press too hard. Discard contents and rinse bag in hot water if you want to re-use the bag again.
Cover fermenter and let set overnight to settle a bit. The next day, rack carefully into a one gallon glass jug and seal with a water lock. (I found that I had enough to fill a gallon jug plus a 750ml wine bottle, so I stoppered and water-locked each so I’ll have enough finished wine to top off the gallon after the final racking.) Place a towel around the jug to keep light out and allow secondary fermentation to proceed. This can take anywhere from 30-60 days. You will know it is finished when CO2 no longer bubbles through the airlock and the wine has cleared, with sediment on the bottom of the jug. You will need to repeat this 2-3 months later and once again at 6 months. At each of these rackings you will need to add an additional 1/8 tsp of meta dissolved in a little water and stirred in. Keep the jug topped off and wrapped in a towel to keep light out.
At the final racking, you can sweeten the wine to taste using liquid wine conditioner containing sorbate and sugar. Remember to always add meta when you use sorbate to protect against refermentation and spoilage from lactic acid bacteria, which will ruin your wine. Bottle at your convenience and lay away for 10-12 months before drinking.