At the end of summer and early fall the wild elderberries are ready for harvesting.
It’s our family’s seasonal rhythm to make elderberry syrup every fall for immune system boosting
We usually either freeze or dehydrate the berries and make the syrup on demand. Because they grow in abundance here we’ve been meaning to make elderberry wine and in 2015 we did!
Elderberries are abundant to forage for this time of the year and this year has been an especially good one.
The most common varieties you see are the American Elder (Sambucus Canadensis) and the Blue Elder (S. glauca). Here in the west Kootenays of British Columbia Canada, we get the blue elderberries but most of you are more familiar with the darker, almost black, American Elderberry.
This recipe is from the 1976 ‘Winemakers’ Recipe Handbook’. Although I found a few elderberry wine recipes online, we ended up going with this one as we wanted to learn and understand using a hydrometer and testing the S.G.
Many people choose to mix elderberries with another fruit to make a blend, a common one being elderberry and blackberry. Many winemakers also use elderberries to add some flavor and color to other wines. We chose to only use elderberries in this recipe to know the base taste of blue elderberries then we can make adjustments as time goes on.
Notes Before the Recipe
- You need to know the basics of wine making for this recipe. I don’t go into the details of what a primary or secondary vessels is, how to clean and sanitize etc. Here is one link for some basics but please do a little research before diving into fermenting wine yourself as if not done correctly you’ll end up with vinegar or contaminating your batch. We purchased a wine making kit which had all the basic instructions on wine making before we made our first batch. Here is a wine making for dummies cheat sheet but I highly recommend you read and learn from multiple sources.
- The recipe doesn’t mention ‘topping off’ after racking for the second fermentation stage. You want the wine to be at the base of the neck of the carboy, about 5-8 cm from the top, otherwise there is too much space for oxidation to occur. Many people top off with juice or the same wine, however because we didn’t have any, we chose to make unsweetened elderberry juice as our top off.
- Some people choose to make a ‘juice’ and not use any pulp when wine making (which is often heated and will be a different end product). We chose the whole fruit method in a nylon bag as this recipe calls for that. Using a nylon bag skips the messy step of straining the berries for the secondary fermentation stage. I don’t know how this recipe would work with just the juice and without the pulp in the primary stage. Even if you use a cold pressed juice you still benefit from having some pulp in the primary stage for flavour and colour. Read more info here on how different processes affect wine.
- We froze the elderberries before using them. This kills off the wild yeast that’s present on the berries so you have more control of the flavour and fermentation.
- This recipe makes 1 gallon of wine. If you’re using a larger wine vessel then you need to increase everything except the yeast.
- We took S.G measurements for each stage and kept detailed records.
- Every batch of wine will ferment differently depending on sugar levels, yeast, temperature, etc. This recipe is a guideline (for example ours took 6 days before we could rack it, not 5) which is why basic wine making is something you need to know.
- Here are some more recipes for making elderberry wine from Common Sense Homesteading, Here We Are and Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook. We went with the recipe below from a wine making recipe book because this is our first time making wine and it seemed like every post I read online had a different process. Wine making is a learning journey and there are endless ways to do it.
Elderberry Wine (using Fresh or Dried elderberries)
Using Fresh Elderberries
- 3lb Elderberries
- 7 pints Water
- 2 1/4 lb of Sugar
- 1 tsp Acid Blend
- 1 tsp of Nutrient
- 1 Campden, crushed
- 1 pkg of Wine Yeast
Using Dried Elderberries
- 5 oz Dried Elderberry
- 1/2 pt Red Grape Concentrate or 1lb Dk raisins
- 1 gal Water
- 2 1/4 lb Sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp Acid Blend
- 1 tsp Nutrient
- 1 Campden crushed
- 1 pkg Wine Yeast
- Strip berries from stems. Wash and sort out any blemished or moldy berries. Using a nylon straining bag (or with a press) mash and strain out the juice into the primary fermenter. Keeping all the pulp in the bag (with dried berries put in with chopped raisins), tie top, and place in primary.
- Stir in all the ingredients EXCEPT the wine yeast. Starting S.G 1.095- 1.100. Cover primary.
- After 24 hours add yeast (we proofed it first). Cover primary.
- Stir daily, check S.G and press pulp lightly to aid in juice extraction.
- When ferment reaches an S.G of 1.030 (about 5 days) strain juice lightly from bag. Syphon wine off sediment into sterilized glass secondary. Attach airlock.
- When ferment is complete (S.G has dropped to 1.000- about 3 weeks) syphon off sediment into clean secondary. Reattach airlock.
- To aid in clearing syphon again in 2 months and again if necessary before bottling.
- These blue-blackberries will result in a ‘Chianti’ type of wine. You can also make a ‘Port’ type wine by increasing the elderberries to 4 1/2 lbs and another 3/4 lb of sugar and use Sherry or Port Yeast. Keep in mind that if you’re multiplying the batch for a port wine it has more berries and sugar for increased volume (so you might only be able to multiply it 4 times for a 5 gallon for example)
- Using 1/4 oz of oak chips per gallon of wine will benefit this wine with an ‘aged-in-oak’ flavour.(we’re choosing to not do this as this is our first time making this batch and we want to see what the base flavour is).
- The wine color darkened a lot after it was ready to bottle. It’s recommended that you wait 6 months-1 year for the wine to age before drinking as the taste gets better. As we’re newbie wine makers we dug into a bottle after 4 months, 6 months, 8 months and so on to notice the change in flavor over time. It definitely got better! We quite liked it ‘as is’ although next time we hope to try a blend, perhaps blackberry and elderberry.