Elderberry wine is delicious!
It’s also our family’s seasonal tradition to harvest elderberries to make elderberry syrup every fall for boosting our immune system. Harvest is usually mid- to late Aug or early Sept. It depends on the year and how early our springs are. We harvest a lot and usually freeze or dehydrate extra elderberries and use them as we need.
In our region, elderberries are plentiful, so we decided to make elderberry wine using an old fashioned recipe
Best elderberry varieties for making elderberry wine
The most common varieties you see are the American Elder (Sambucus Canadensis) and the Blue Elder (S. glauca). Where we live in the west Kootenays of British Columbia Canada, we get the blue elderberries. Many other regions have the darker, almost black, American Elderberry. I discuss foraging for elderberries in more depth in this elderberry post.
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.
Winemakers often 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 grape wines. For our wine making, we chose to only use elderberries in this recipe. That way we understand the base taste of blue elderberries. Overtime, I’d like to play around with flavors. 🙂
Supplies needed for making Elderberry wine
- Primary Fermentor *
- Secondary carboy Fermentor *
* The size of your primary and secondary fermentor will depend on how much wine you plan on making. Today’s recipe is for a 1-gallon size. When we made our wine, we used a 5-gallon size (so we multiplied the recipe by 5). We just bought a 5-gallon winemaking kit, (you can also get the smaller 1-gallon wine making kit), as it was easier than shopping for all the individual supplies.
Other wine making supplies
- Nylon straining bag (the size will depend on your primary fermenter)
- Siphon Hose with Shut-Off Clamp
- Hydrometer & Test Jar
- Bubbler air-lock & carboy bung
- A Corker (we have this one) but this is the size that takes up way less space!
Two Elderberry wine recipes
(using fresh or dried elderberries)
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).
Other wine makers like the whole fruit method in a nylon bag. 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 flavor and color. Read more info here on how different processes affect wine.
I prefer to freeze the elderberries before using them.
This kills off the wild yeast that’s present on the berries so you have more control of the flavor and fermentation. Traditionally you’d use the wild yeast for fermenting instead of ‘buying’ yeast. I’ve yet to dive into wild fermentation as we’re learning, but one day!
Using Fresh Elderberries
Instructions for Elderberry Wine
- 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.
- Next 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.
Notes for Making Elderberry Wine
- 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.