The Principles of Elderberry Fruit Wine Making

Elderberries are fruits that lend themselves perfectly to fruit wine making. They taste great and have sufficient character, tannins and complexity to make wonderful age-worthy wines.

From colonial days elderberry wine has been a favourite home-made and in parts, commercially made wine. Recipes are numerous and varied. The method described here has been used successfully in laboratory testing and trial batches.

Elderberries are very plentiful in some sections of Britain, most of Northern Europe, Pacific coast of North America and many regions of Eastern United States. The fruit ripens in early and midsummer when grapes are not in season. Therefore, commercial wineries can make use of them to good advantage. The fruit is not very juicy; hence addition of water is advisable. The juice ferments rapidly and is relatively easy to balance and adjust to varying wine styles.

Dry Wines: Strip the berries off the stems. This could be done mechanically on a large scale; by hand, on a small scale.

The berries are small; hence crushing is difficult. On a small scale, tomato juice extractor works well. On a larger scale, a fruit screw press or juicer can be used. In the kitchen a multi-bladed food grinder could be used.

To the crushed berries add an equal volume of water and sugar to bring the juice to about 21° to 22° Brix. The average diluted juice will be about 6° Brix; hence, a required amount of about two pounds of sugar to each ten pounds of diluted crushed berries, or about 1.7 to 1.75 lb. per gallon of the crushed berries and water would be needed.

Add about 100 p.p.m. of S02 and a 2 to 3 per cent starter of pure wine yeast. The wine can ferment rapidly and a cap of pomace forms. This should be punched down twice a day.

Ferment 3 to 4 days. Draw off the free run. Press. Combine the press wine and free run, and complete the fermentation. Settle in full containers. Rack, Fine, Filter, Age, Filter and finally Bottle.

Another method used is to take the mixture of crushed berries and add heated water; pressed hot; the juice cooled; sweetened; SO2 and yeast added; and fermented.

The finished wine ages rapidly and is ready to use in 3 to 6 months. It can be similar to a Burgundy in some degree and a useful and very pleasant table wine.

Sweet Wine: Proceed as for dry wine except use the sugared fermentation procedure.

Add sugar (dextrose or cane sugar) to raise the juice to 20° Brix. Allow fermentation to proceed to about 1° to 3° Brix. Add 5 per cent of sugar by weight. Allow fermentation to proceed again to 1° to 3° Brix and again add sugar. Repeat this cycle until fermentation ceases, usually at about 16 to 18 per cent alcohol. The wine may then be sweetened to the desired degree (about 6’ Brix works well), if not sufficiently sweet.

The sweet wine is preferred by most consumers, and is an excellent dessert wine.

Also the sweetened juice can be fermented to 10° to 14° Brix and fortified to 18 to 20 per cent alcohol with high proof brandy or grain alcohol. This gives a Port-like wine.

Elderberries make great wine in a varied amount of styles. It can be one of the fruit wine that resembles the most like a red grape wine and is certainly worth making.

Happy winemaking!

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