May 17, 2021

Naturally Fermented Elderberry Wine

Last summer, I put mesh bags on my clusters of elderberry flowers to protect the berries from the birds. I was rewarded with a ton of elderberries.

Elderberry harvest, September 2020

I made jelly, vinegar, and tincture with them; dehydrated some and froze the rest (the rest being 6 or 8 gallons-worth.) What to do with them? I'm not much of a wine drinker, but what the heck. I decided to try my hand at elderberry wine. 

I did a little research and found myself looking at two choices. One was the commercialized method, where I buy additives and yeast. The other was a natural ferment. Well, ya'll know me, it was natural ferment or forget it. I know the argument against it – inconsistent results. It's the same argument used for natural cheesemaking and natural dying. But let's face it, even a commercially prepared batch can flop. And since I'm not trying to impress anyone, who cares if the batches vary? Makes for a more interesting outcome without having to buy anything.

I didn't find many resources for natural fermented elderberry wine, but these two videos helped me work out a recipe:
This last video is more generic but brought it down to bare basics along with the rationale for the steps (my kind of video):

I made a one-gallon batch.

1 kg elderberries (defrosted okay), 100 gms
 unsulfured raisins, 2 L non-chlorinated water.

Both elderberry wine videos called for the raisins, although I'm not exactly sure why. One said as a source of natural yeasts, the other said for sweetness. Does anyone have a clue?

Mix the fruit and water, and mash to release the fruit juices..

Transfer to a gallon jar and cover
with clean cotton cloth. Stir daily.

The purpose of the cloth is to allow natural yeasts in the air to inoculation the fruit juice, while keeping out bugs and debris. 

After 3 or 4 days, strain the liquid from the fruit.

I used my wine (tincture) press to squeeze.

Add 1 kg sugar and stir till dissolved. Add more water.

Cover again with cotton cloth and stir daily. After 3 or 4 days
it should be producing bubbles, indicating fermentation.

The next step is to siphon again, this time into a carboy, avoiding any scum at the top or dregs on the bottom of the jug. A "real" carboy is clear glass; mine is actually a gallon glass jug that I bought organic apple cider in. Of course, I saved the jug. 

Air gaps in the siphon tube because
I had to step back to get this picture.

The jug was topped off with a little more filtered water and a water filled airlock installed.

Make-do carboy with airlock.

During fermentation gases are produced (mostly carbon dioxide, I believe). The airlock allows these to escape but keeps oxygen and contaminants from entering the jug. 

It's stored undisturbed in a cool place for three to four months, or until fermentation is complete. Experienced people use a hydrometer to test for alcohol content. I used a more beginnerish method and just watched the bottle. When fermentation is done, it no longer produces bubbles, and there is sediment at the bottom of the jug from the spent yeast. I did test it with my hydrometer because I was curious about it. The alcohol content is about 5%. 

The bottles must be sterilized to avoid contaminants which produce off flavors. I didn't want to use chemical cleaners, so I put the bottles into a cold oven, heated to about 225°F (110°C) for 15 to 20 minutes.

Bottles sterilizing in the oven.

Then the oven is turned off and the bottles are allowed to cool completely. The wine is siphoned from the carboy into the bottles.

Bottling is easier with two people.

The bottled wine is stored in a cool, dark place, where the final product is said to improve with age. We had a partial bottle leftover, which of course we sampled! I've already mentioned that I'm nowhere near a wine connoisseur, but I can tell you that it's the best wine I've ever tasted.

Something for special occasions.

I immediately started on a second batch! And I can see a little experimentation in my future. 


Gorges Smythe said...

Raisins would have to be for sweetness; there should be plenty of fresh yeast on the elderberries.

Ed said...

I was born without an alcohol gene because I've never really enjoyed drinking the stuff. I choke down a glass of wine or a bottle of beer once in awhile with friends to be sociable and thanks to Covid, it has been over a year since the last time. On occasion, very rare, I find a wine or a beer that I find pleasant to drink but I never understand the why I like it and not the others and usually can't remember a week from now the brand so I can get some more.

Leigh said...

Gorges, that makes sense to me. What I found interesting about the two videos I mention, is that the producers were in different parts of the world, yet both added the raisins. So I did the same!

Ed, it's all about taste. I don't reckon there's any sense it consuming something that doesn't taste good! If I have a flop, I'll use it for cooking and making vinegar.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, I have read that raisins for such brewings (sake, apparently, can be similar) is for yeast, additional sugars, or sweetness (or a combination of all three).

I have not brewed for years, but I must confess between going to the brewing store to get stoppers for my ollahs and your post, I am getting sorely tempted again...

(Also, depending on size, you can place the bottles in boiling water as well - but oven sterilization is a great idea!)

Leigh said...

TB, thank you for that tidbit! I seem to have a lot of natural yeasts in the air, as evidenced by how easily I can get a sourdough starter going.

Wine is definitely a good thing to do with some of those elderberries. We can consume elderberry jelly only so fast! I looked through some of the wine making supply sites while trying to find things, and see that one can purchase canned fruit purees for the purpose. I don't think I'd go that far, so I suppose I'll never be a true enthusiast. But I do like adding fermented foods to our diet, so this is another good process to know.

Retired Knitter said...

Wow, so much work. But I bet is was so yummy.

Leigh said...

RT, it's like doing a science project. :)

Pioneer Woman at Heart said...

We made pear wine one year. I can't do elederberry, as the deer ruined my trees. I haven't re-planted yet. We want larger ones to plant. Maybe next year if we are lucky to find any. Your wine looks great.

Leigh said...

Kristina, that's too bad about your elderberries. I hope you can get a big enough hedge to starting getting a crop. Last year I made an elderberry/pear syrup and we had some tonight of vanilla ice cream. It was great!

Cederq said...

I must say if we start to read articles that don't make sense or has tons of grammatical errors we know you have been sipping the elderberry wine... I brew beer and do that when the mood strikes. I have done dandelion wine in the past. I might try elderberry wine, sound good and I have to ask is it mild or astringent as most commercial wines seem to be?

Leigh said...

I find it to be quite mild and much pleasanter than commercial wines. From what I understand, berry wines are the easiest to make. Beer sounds complicated.

Cederq said...

Leigh, beer isn't that much more complicated then making wine, some step are different and you have to watch the fermentation a little closer and worry about CO2 a bit more, but it makes itself...

Leigh said...

"It makes itself..." My kind of stuff!

Henny Penny said...

I am not a big wine drinker either but your elderberry wine looks delicious.

Leigh said...

Henny, I like that it's made with our own elderberries. I figure it will be nice for special occasions and gifts.

Chris said...

You're fortunate to be able to produce elderberries. Do you have problems with birds taking them? I struggle to get them to produce berries in our hot climate. The few that did berry, fell off, or the birds got to them. I can't tell, but I have yet to yield any berries. I persist though, because I'd love to use them medicinally. Love the look and process of your wine.

Leigh said...

Yes! Lots of problems with birds! Usually, I barely get enough for a batch of jelly. But last year I bought sets of mesh bags and covered the clusters of flowers. I harvested tons of elderberries! The only thing I didn't make was elderberry syrup, because it doesn't seem to have much of a shelf life. I've still got three or four gallons in the freezer. I may not need to cover them again this year.

Seeking Serenity said...

wow this is so cool!!! I LOve elderberries

Leigh said...

Serenity, it is pretty neat. Not as complicated as I thought it might be and so far so good. Of course, working with fermentation is an invitation for surprises. :)

Kev Alviti said...

Raisins help add body to a wine, but often they were in the older recipes as they're basically 50% sugar and at that time raisins more than 50% cheaper than buying sugar (in the UK anyway and I guess recipes go across the pond) so it was done for economy.
Have to get you making some beer kits - There's some great ones out there.

Leigh said...

Kev, thanks! That makes sense and the tradition continues.

Beer kits - too many to choose from!