Tag: Elderberry wine


Elderberry 2016a
2016 Elderberry wine

Elderberry wine seems to be the hardest to master but the most rewarding in terms of flavour that I have tried. The berries give a very grape like taste and seem very dependent on process as well as recipe and I imagine they can be made into a range of dry to sweet, medium to full bodied wines.


Opening the 2016 “vintage” was an opportunity to test the changes I had made to the recipe to reduce the harsh tannin content. To do this I pressed the berries earlier than previous attempts so that the rising ethanol during fermentation did not extract the harsher tannins from the seeds. A cold maceration has always been part of my elderberry recipe to allow lots of colour to be extracted so an early press still gives a deep almost black wine!


The wine certainly seems to have benefited with this early press with less harsh tannins giving a more balanced wine with a fruitier taste than previous. I may increase the ratio of fruit to push it from a medium body to a full bodied wine. It does need to breathe a long time after being opened so this could mean I need to leave it longer in bulk aging to allow even more carbon dioxide to dissipate out.

Elderberry 2016b
Easily the darkest wine I have made.

Another aspect I plan to do is a double splash back on the first rack to encourage a little oxidation to promote more complex tastes to develop. The subsequent racks will be less energetic to allow as little oxygen exposure as possible. This is partly influenced by one of the 2017 demijohns having an airlock that totally dried out and rather than damaging the wine it seems to have helped it and compared to the other fully enclosed demijohn it seemed more balanced. I have no idea how long it was exposed but I am hoping the double drop when racking can simulate this again as a controlled and repeatable process.

Acidity continues to be an issue and I intend to change from citric acid that really seems to retreat over time to either a blend or tartaric acid as found in grapes. Sadly, this means I need to get my feeble brain around how acids develop tastes and what acids are present in elderberries. 2018’s experiments will happen before I open another bottle as I plan to age at least another 6 months or maybe even 12.



Eldberry wine 2017
Elderberry wine at nine days old.

Elderberry is the hardest wine I have made as it is so close to traditional wine with a clear comparison to grapes. Other fruit wines such as blackberry have a strong flavour of their base fruit that is the basis of their profile. Elderberries make a “purer” wine far more reliant on the balance of acidity, tannin and sweetness that is extracted as you ferment.



I have constantly been refining how I make my elderberry wine and this year I am hoping that I will be closer to mastering it. First I needed the best berries I could get and I have foraged further than previous years and trying to pick only the ripest and tastiest I can find. Elderberries can ripen at different times, vary in taste from tree to tree and even which side of the tree that gets the most sun. I have found that trees on moist but well draining ground provide the sweetest berries with the fullest, fruitiest flavour. Being on a bank of a stream or unhindered by other thirsty trees seems to be best while trees on flat drier ground take longer to ripen. Trees on muddy water logged ground produce the most tannic and bitter elderberries with little sugar or flavour profile so are best avoided. When starting to make wines I never though I would be writing about elderberry “terroir!”


Black and white elderberries
Black and sweeter white elderberries.

Choosing when to pick has been a test of will but is paying dividends. Virtually all clusters have had a taste test to make sure they are ripe before I pick and that they are from sweeter tasting trees. The best berries have a full fresh berry taste with a detectable sweetness and mouth feel is present as a “buttery” sensation – to me at least. Acidity and tannin is reduced in comparison to the more immature berries that look identical but have still not plumped up full of juice. This year I found two new species of elder tree. White elderberries are sweeter with the tiniest hint of elderflower to them. As they are so rare only five or so clusters could be harvested so they do not make up any detectable percentage of the wine. The other species that gives pink elderflowers provides overly bitter berries that have been left unused. These trees were easily identified as they had dark green leaves that were feathered and curled compared to the lighter oval leaves of the traditional elder tree.

Once home the clusters were rinsed to get dust, leaves and any spiders removed. The few hard, mushy, reddish or otherwise unwanted berries removed and then the good ones gently tickled from the stems. If there are too few for a full batch of wine I froze them ready for when there were enough.

Cold maceration
Cold Maceration – Picked, rinsed, covered in cold water then protected by two layers of clingfilm.

Although I had the best fruit I could fine and my recipe was good my methodology was next to get an over haul. Elderberries are rich in tannin with the skins and seeds being particularly packed full and I wanted to manage how it was extracted. Due to their small size it means there is a lot of skin and seeds in comparison to the juice – certainly more so than grapes and because of this tannin is the enemy when making elderberry wine. A cold soak allows the rich colour and aroma to be extracted from the skins and as it is an aqueous extraction it leaves the tannin seemingly untouched as it is only soluble in ethanol as the wine ferments.


Elder wine post cold soak
Post cold soak the elderberries were crushed to release juice then sugar added to 1.08 or 1.09

Cold maceration had always been part of my method for elderberry wine so to further manage I intended to test two methods to limit tannin extraction. One is to press the juice totally from the berries after the cold maceration then add only half the skins to the must allowing only half the tannin available to be extracted. I never tested this as I had great results using not weight but time as the limiting factor. The elderberries were pressed two days into fermentation and then discarded. Doing this created a rich dark must that continued to ferment for another five days.

ressing Elderberries at 2 days
Squeezing the juice out. By hand will certainly be good enough but a press works wonders.


Tannin seems to have been held back allowing the whole of the elderberry taste to shine through. The juice was far fruitier with a slight almost blackberry and deeper cherry like taste that I had not been able to maximise previously. This will take at yeast two years to mature, maybe even more but the admittedly crude taste test during fermentation has shown a rounder balanced wine than with. Hopefully I will be lucky like last year when spontaneous malolactic fermentation occurred mellowing acidity. Next year I will be further refining I hope.


Suitable yeasts – R56, Lalvin R2, D80, D254, Bergundy. Strong full bodied wine suitable for higher ABV of 13% Suitable for oaking and can be left totally dry or will a very slight back sweeten. Takes the longest of any fruit wine to mature at a minimum of 2 years. Skins can be used for a second run elderberry rose or an medium bodied elder & blackberry wine.

2kg elderberries
3.5L water
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Juice of one lemon
1tsp pectolase
1tsp yeast nutrient (optional)

  1. Pick any elderberries and freeze until enough have been sourced.
  2. Cold soak for three to five days in a sterile covered pan or container in the fridge in two litres of water and a crushed campden tablet to kill any wild yeasts.
  3. On the penultimate day of cold soak, boil the rest of the water to sterilize and leave to get to room temperature. Mash the berries and combine the next day.
  4. Add pectic enzyme and leave for 12 to 24 hours.
  5. Stir in the sugar to 1.09SG, lemon juice then the yeast.
  6. Ferment for two days in primary then press the juice – a good manual squeeze in cleaned hands is perfectly good (A press does wonders though) The juice can simply return to the primary fermenter and then continue to ferment.
  7. Filter into demijohn to remove any rogue seeds or skins that may have stayed and ferment in secondary with an airlock.
  8. Rack after five weeks then two months after that to remove sediment. The wine wants to age at least six months after pitching the yeast.
  9. Stabilise if necessary and back sweeten if desired.
  10. Bottle and wait for at least two years before having a little taste test.


Tannin I think is often misunderstood in fruit wines. Feared even. It is often talked of in terms of minimising tannin levels as if it should be totally removed from wine and wine making altogether. Often tannin it is actually added either as a pure additive, as tea or in oak chips when it is ageing. Oak chips provide “hydrolyzable tannins” that provide greater mouth feel with a softer taste to the harsher “condensed tannins” that are present in fruit juice in low quantities and more prevalent in some fruit skins, seeds and stems.

Tannin left after elderberry
Excess tannin that settled during last years elderberry wine.

Both red and white grape wines have tannin present but it is far more prevalent in reds as it macerates on the fruit for longer. Little tannin is extracted aqueously but as the ethanol level rises so too does the extraction of tannin. Grape wines are the basis of fruit wines as the taste template we use as a reference. Home wine makers are beholden to those norms. Sadly not all fruit has the same characteristics of grapes so adding or managing tannin becomes important to replicate the balance between sweet, acidic sour and bitter tannin tastes of grape wines.

White fruit wine ingredients vary in tannin content. Elderflowers for example need tea added as the petals are naturally low in tannin. Gooseberries – the “hairy grape” has tannin present in the pips and skins so does not need any additives and I have found that pressing after an initial short maceration helps manage the tannin content to match that of a traditional white or rose wine. This is done two days into fermentation when the solids are removed, pressed then tossed away and the remaining wine happily sits in primary fermentation for a few days more.

Last years gooseberry wine

Red fruit wines have more variance in finished tannin content due to personal preferences in taste and style as well as the initial tannin content of the fruit that makes them. Some people may want a full bodied tannic blackberry wine, a medium bodied blackcurrant or perhaps a light bodied almost rose elderberry wine made from a second run fermentation. The tannin levels vary between the base fruit but it can be managed to make the style of wine you want. Because of this tannin becomes far more about management than simply addition or removal as with a white wine.

Always plan ahead and have an idea of the wine you wish to make. Generally it is thought that high tannin content and low tasting acidity and higher alcohol content work with each other as a flavour profile. This means that an idea of the final ABV and initial sugar content derived from a hydrometer reading is useful. Fresher tasting younger style wines will need less tannin, but if you have a preference for full bodied wines, with both time and will power to age your wine more tannin can be present.

Strained walnut liquer
Walnut leaf wine macerating. The liquor is brown from the tannin and can be seen as a floating white film on the left image.

I can think of few fruit wines other than oak or walnut leaf wine and possibly some dandelion wines that use stems. Stems should always be removed from fruit as they are high in harsh tannins. This is especially so in something like elderberry or elderflower wine as the stems are toxic as well as tannic! A good eyeball and preparation of fruit will help you make a good wine.

After a style is in mind a recipe needs to match it. Blackberries have some tannin present in them and are a good example where the recipe can change the style of a wine. The berries left to themselves will create a traditional medium-bodied wine that could be drunk at nine months in age if you are very very lucky. Blackberries with a tea added will make a fuller bodied wine that will need 18 months ageing before it approaches drinkability.

Pressed blackcurrants
Pressing fruit means that juice can be kept and tannin rich skins discarded

Elderberries have the opposite problem and as they have a high proportion of thick skins and seeds compared to the juice they provide when crushed or pressed. When processing tannin rich fruit it is important not to break the seeds or pips as the interior has the harshest tasting tannins that could ruin a wine if extracted in large quantities. Blending in a foot processor or an extremely thorough press could crack the seeds and release it. There are several methods to control the amount of tannin extracted. Cold maceration allows an aqueous extraction of the least harsh tannins from the skins before the berries are crushed. In conjunction with removal of the fruit mid way through primary fermentation less tannin will be extracted. Pressing the fruit pre-fermentation then discarding half the skins and allowing those remaining to sit for the duration of primary fermentation could also work. This will allow the extraction of different tannins as the seeds will be exposed for far longer.


Alternatively whole elderberries could be left to ferment with months in bulk ageing to allow the tannins combine and fall out of suspension as sediment that is left behind when racking. This very much leaves it to chance. In addition or an alternative certain settling agents like gelatine or isinglass can be added to remove tannin when racked. It should be noted that tannin can also act as a natural settling agent combining with certain proteins as it ages and settling agents could interfere. Mechanical filtration though filter pads is a final way to remove tannin but that can also remove other flavour compounds… apparently… the jury is still out on that discussion.

Oaking blackcurrant wine.

Oaking a wine occurs neer the end of bulk aging just before bottling. This replicates the aging process in a wine barrel. Few white wines are aged in oak barrels but it is not unheard of and I may try it with my elderflower wine next year to simulate a Chardonnay style. Whites are generally unsuited to oaking with chips as the higher acidity (lower pH) conflicts with the tannin tastes. Typically less than 10g per litre of oak chips are added to either white or red wines and they can sit for a few days to three months extracting the oak flavour. A home made port is an exception as it is so rich and more than likely sweet it can with stand the high tannin extraction, ranging from 20 to 30g of oak chips added per gallon and resting for up to three months or more. Oak is not a tannin addition like tea and is not meant to provide the whole tannin content, merely to compliment it with a range of usually lighter tannins to add complexity as top notes. All oaked wines will need longer to age than an un-oaked wine of the same recipe as the tannin will gradually bind over time to create a rounded mouth feel and balanced taste.


Elderberry 1

Elderberry season will nearly be upon us and, in some cases, they have matured to perfection and are ready to pick now. Traditionally it was thought that elder was an autumn harvest but possibly to global warming or to Walthamstow marshes microclimate and industrial estate pollution they are ripening in mid-August with a few exceptionally early if they are on the banks of a water course.

Elder tree
Elder tree – not the prettiest tree in the world.

With a few exceptions of freeze-dried mail ordered packets, all elderberries will be foraged. Identifying an elder tree is important, many berries or trees look similar and some berries are inedible or poisonous. Elder trees are stout, scrubby-looking things up to 15ft tall with ill-defined trunks and thin branches. Leaves are almost always in clusters of five arranged two by two with one at the end, only a few sub-species vary and these are rare. In springtime, an elder tree will be covered with clusters of white/cream flowers with a lovely scent, often detectable even at 10 metres away so keep your eyes peeled all year. By the time the berries have grown, they will be an inky black with the weight of the berries making the red stems droop downwards. If in doubt The Woodland Trust has a very good tree identification app that can be down loaded for free!


Identifying elderberries
Clusters of berries on red stems and leaves in sets of five.

Always be sensible hunting for elderberries. Do not get trapped in a bog or fall down a ditch trying to get that last teasing beautiful ripe bunch of berries. Check if you need permission to forage – common land will always be OK but some forests have by-laws as they are managed eco systems, for example Epping Forest. Usually, these are to stop over eager mushroom-pickers but do not leave it to chance and be chased by PC Mountain-Bike. He is unusually fit despite his advanced size.

Elder trees are hardy things and can be seen in unlikely places – do not get temped by any on the side of a busy road chocked by diesel or in the middle of an industrial estate. Trees near still water tend to get mildew and cobweb-covered easily or infested with flies but that is not to say there won’t be anything useable. Ones by the side of running water seem to ripen the quickest as they have a huge reserve of water to plump up the berries while those on flatter dryer land will mature later. This can be used to your advantage if you are making a few batches as it can time with your primary fermenter. South-facing berries will mature earlier than those on other sides of the tree.

Elderberry on bush
English grapes

Elderberries are regarded as “the Englishman’s grape” as they make the best non-grape wine with a full-bodied taste due to the tannin already present in the skins. Elderberries are acidic to taste raw just like some wine grapes and totally at odds to a dessert grape. In my view, though generally not amazing to eat raw, the acidity and tannic taste has been over emphasised in recipes and guides. Mature berries mellow with acidity becoming less dominant and the “chlorophyll” or “fruit skin” taste retreating and a rounder more traditionally berry like taste developing. Most guides only say to pick when all the berries have turned a deep black but in reality you need to do more. Generally, the mature berries will be weighty and pull downwards but, if a number have been eaten by birds, they will remain rigid. The stems will have become red, and will be brittle and are easily snapped like a twig if they are mature. Before that, pick a few individual berries – they will pop off the stalk easily and be soft and squishy if rolled gently between a thumb and fore finger. Juice will be plentiful and viscous rather than the fleshier immature berries. Taste a few berries from each cluster for the definitive test. Acidity will have mellowed to be palatable with a velvety mouth-feel similar to a ripe blackberry and some sweetness, but not as a dominant as other berries. If the elderberry has a “plastic” or “artificial” taste, they still need time to mature on the tree.

Elderberries picked and plucked from the stems

Two kilograms of elderberries are needed for an English gallon (4.5litres) of wine, which is probably 80 to 100 clusters of berries. They freeze well so you can easily pick over a few foraging trips to maximise the quality of your harvest. Always remove the red stems as much as possible, as this contains toxins and no one likes an upset tummy. The easiest way to do this is gently pull three or four berries gently at a time, though some swear a dinner fork works wonders. All parts of the elder tree contain toxins except mature berries and flowers. Do not get tempted to make a leaf wine or experiment with unripe green berries, do not handle the wood and stay well clear of the heavily toxic roots!


Time. That vast rolling expanse into infinity. In the time before time… well two years ago I made a blueberry wine as it was reputedly a good wine to drink young. I happily guzzled it within a year of pitching the yeast and it was all very nice. One bottle was squirrelled away as I often do with a 10 litre batch and it has been happily maturing for an extra year. This was a pleasure to drink with a totally different character mellowing into a spicy rose with “cherryish” blueberry and nutty tastes with an amazingly clear slightly purpled hue. All the talk of drinking it young seems to be flim flam and patience is a virtue.


Blueberry Wine 14 weeks
10L Blueberry wine at 14 weeks old

Sadly no pictures in the glass as five of us all had a glass. I have got a new batch a year into aging and an experimental blueberry and pomegranate started in primary… more of which next week.

Elderberry wine 2016
Elderberry wine 2016

I do have pictures of the Elderberry that has just been bottled. On the right a clear bottle that shows off the colour amazingly. Again I am going to leave it longer than poeple suggest. Most blogs say a year is adequate to leave itand I am not so sure about that. Started in September it has had a fair amount of time of bulk aging in the demijohn and all the CO2 seems to have off gassed naturally so no vacuum pumping needed. The 2015 vintage is still not mature enough to drink being too tannic although the quicker elder and black is good. For this the 2016 vintage pictured I tried to modify my approach to make it less tannic. The cold aqueous maceration was extended from 3 to 5 days and then the maceration in primary fermentation was reduced to 5 days before being pressed (well squeeeezed in the muslin bag) so that the skins could be removed earlier. The pre-fermentation cold soak allows colour and taste to be extracted but as there is no yeast present producing ethanol the tannin is mostly left. Only when ethanol is present from the fermenting yeast is the tannin content of the skins and seeds started to be macerated out. This means I can use the two differing macerations to extract the ratio of flavours I want.


The results are already evident as having a taste of the left overs lees the wine was fruitier tasting with far less harsher tannins present. It will still need at least two years to age, maybe even more but it seems a far better prospect that the 2015 version. I cannot say for sure why but far more tannin dropped out of suspension this year which you can see photographed from the bottom up. It could be from harvesting later or the warmer summer that seemed to create a bumper crop of elderberries.

Tannin left after elderberry
Tannin that precipitated out of suspension

I am hoping this year’s forage and fermenting will allow me enough berries to make two batches so I can compare and contrast methods. One will be may made with a 7 day cold soak and 5 day ferment of uncrushed berries before I press them. This will mean few of the elderberries are burst so the tannin rich seeds are never really exposed to the ethanol to extract their tannin. Seeds are said to have the harshest tasting tannins imparting the most bitter taste into wines. The other demijohn will have a 5 day cold soak and 4 day fermentation of crushed berries before I remove them. Both the skins and seed will be exposed to ethanol but for a shorter time.


Elderberry wine at 17 months.

First pop of the elderberry wine has occurred and my views are mixed. This was made in 2015 and it obviously needs more time to age – I seem to make wine that need longer than some recipes suggest. The blackberry wine really hit its stride at 18 months rather than the 12 that recipes talk of. This is no worry and the best ingredient in wine making is patience. Elderberry is more like a grape so will similarly need to more like a grape so I may open another bottle at 24 months or even later.



Richer and deeper coloured 2016 elderberry wine still in the demijohn at 2 months in age.

Currently the elder taste is only starting to show through the tannin which is still high and will continue to mellow. With the 2016 recipe I shortened the maceration to 5 days rather than leaving the fruit on the pulp for 7. It had a noticeable difference when I racked and I may shorten this further in 2017 to only 3 days. As elder skins are thick they make up a comparatively high amount of the total fruit. These skins are high in tannin and it is extracted by the rising ethanol as fermentation occurs. Using the cold maceration process and moving the pulp towards a more aquious extraction and pressing earlier should reduce tannin content.


Elderberries post cold soak

The 2016 vintage seems to have had better fruit that I could forage and a better growing season so I have a better base ingredient from the outset. Currently it is undergoing malolactic fermentation and I will stabilise this with campden and potassium sorbate so that back sweetening can occur and the flavour is complete in the bottle. The 2015 vintage was bottled totally dry to give me some ability to adjust what I was doing but back sweetening it in the glass really helped to bring the fruit flavours forward. In 2017 I may also invest in a heat pad to see if a slightly higher temperature may help maintain fruit flavours.


L to R: Lees of elderberry / elder and black / blackberry / blackcurrant wine

Summer and autumn allowed me to get all my red wines made. First was blackcurrant wine made from a pick your own farm. Wet weather made for a late foraged harvest of blackberries that was at the same time as the early foraging of elderberries. I also managed to make an elder and black wine from these two fruit as a second run on the elderberries and a frech crop of blackberries. These reds have now been racked for their final time and are between 17 and 21 weeks old. They probably have another 12 weeks in demijohns before they are bottled to make way for new wines in the spring months like nettle, dandelion, beetroot or any multitude of others – the jury is out at the moment.





I am pleased with all of them but the blackberry seems to be the stand out winner at the moment. I modified last years recipe adding 200g extra fruit upping it to 2.2kg and also adding 250g of chopped raisins to add more body. Already really tasty it seems to have matured quickly with no real sediment settling now. The new recipe makes a full bodied wine rather than a medium. It seems to be free of carbon dioxide and will need no degassing artificially so bottling could happen earlier if I want some demijohn space.

This is the first year I have made blackcurrant wine and initially I was sceptical when prepping the fruit in a cold maceration and primary fermentation as it smelled so much like a fruit juice like Ribena. The worry was that this would be like a alcho-pop and too sweet or too floral to be a genuinely nice drink, especially considering the price of getting the fruit. Now aged and oaked for a month it has really developed reducing in the overly fragrant and over powering fruitiness into a complex medium/full bodied wine. It may well need a long time to bottle age but it will certainly be great in two years. I will certainly be repeating this next June.


The elder and black is the lightest of all the wine in terms colour, no real surprise as it was made as a second run so much of the colour was extracted in the first run wines. That is not to say that flavour is lacking. It is punchy though still needs more time for all the sediments to totally fall out. Certainly better than last years attempt as the fruit was less sour – patience is a virtue when foraging!

The elderberry wine is the biggest worry but also the most unknown at this point. I have been using a modified technique which I may well refine next year too. The wine had 5 days in cold maceration and then 6 days in primary fermentation before the elderberries were squeezed and returned to primary for a few days more. Next year I may reduce this to four days before pressing as I think too much tannin might be being extracted. Elderberries have a lot of tannin in their skin and this is extracted via alcoholic maceration rather than the aqueous extraction for other flavour compounds. As fermentation occurs and alcohol rises so does the tannin extraction. My plans are all supposition as the elderberry will have at least 18 months maturing and I can see that tannin is already precipitating out as thick black spots so the wine is changing all the time. It also is still the thickest with the most particulate floating about so it is still relatively young. This and the blackcurrant have the most potential to age for a long time and to develop. It would be folly to judge it too soon.



Suitable yeast- R56, Lalvin 71B, D80 or D254

Elder and Black at 5 days old

1kg elderberries (or skins from previous run of elder)

1.5kg blackberries

4L water

1kg sugar to 1.09sg

1tsp yeast nutrient

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2tsp pectolase

Yeast (If not reusing skins)


Wine making seems to escalate into mania rather than any real money saving or taste experiment turning into entertainment for hoarders. Currently I have the equivalent of 70 or so bottles of wine fermenting from this years recipes to compliment the ones that are aging in bottle in the Zero Drop Wine Cellar… the cupboard under the stairs. The rather heavy investment is to allow the blackberry, blueberry and elderberry a decent chance of aging rather than being snaffled too early.

The Elder and Black wine allows myself to indulge this greed for the last time this year. Elderberries are full of flavour, so much so that they can be recycled into a second run wine – this is from the skins being so thick and proportionally a lot of the berries as they are teeny weeny compared to grapes. The flavour is not as strong as the first run only having about half the punch so the 4kg of fruit from the pure elderberry wine is now the equivalent of 2kg of fruit. The taste has also changed to be less fruity moving towards the tannic side so I am using 2kg of blackberries to make up the deficit. These two berries compliment each other as the blackberries provide to fruitier top tastes and the elder skins the baser bitter tastes to make an at least medium red wine.

Alternatively I could have just reused the skins but halved the volume of wine being made but I was worried this would be too tannic dominating the light style that would be created by just the skins.

Primary fermentation of the Elder and Black. Recycled elderberries in the left sparge bag and blackberries on the right

Planning ahead was important as I needed the blackberries to be blanched and steralised with boiled water to be the correct temperature to add to the left over skins. After racking off the thick rich elderberry wine I was left with a rather gloopy mess of juice and yeast. To this I added the soaked blackberries, some citric acid and 2kg of sugar to make to take it to 1.08SG. The yeast was already present and was energetic to say the least starting to bubble within 10 minutes of the sugar being added.

Party time was an intensive 4 days in primary fermentation and when I racked it had a rich vibrant blood red colour, different to the ink black of the pure elderberry. The smell was fruity and even at such a young age the two berries seemed well suited to each other. This mongrel may even outshine the pedigree but only time will tell. This year I have both an elderberry wine and a blackberry wine on the go and then the love child of them with recipes and methods tailor made to get as much flavour out of all of them. In theory the blackberry will be first to be opened at 9 months maybe 12, then the elder and black at 12 months and the thoroughbred elderberry at 18. If I can I would like to leave them at least twice as long to really bulk age them.



The Englishman’s Grape

It’s elderberry season… a month early. Hurray for global warming! Screw global warming but back to the elderberries.


The warm but wet weather has shifted elder trees into high gear so the berries have ripened a month earlier than last year. Not only that but the berries seem nice and juicy bursting with flavour. In an odd twist there are even one or two elder flowers blossoming at the same time due to the on again off again efforts of the sun to poke his head through the clouds.

Making elderberry wine is not for the faint hearted. You have to wait a year minimum for elderberry wine to mature, probably 2 or more even. You cannot wander into Lidl and browse for elderberries – some mail order companies do sell dried berries though.. Elderberries are foraged and you need about 2kg of berries per gallon of wine being made. First find some elder trees, they are scrubby looking bushes easily identified by the floral elder flowers in April. Leaves are almost certainly in groups of five and the berries mature to become ink black in red stemmed clusters about this time of year!


Not only must you identify them correctly but you have to be patient too picking them only when they fully ripe. All the berries have to turn a rich deep black – check the undersides of the berries to really see if they are mature with no red glinting back. The stems turn red and if the cluster has been unmolested by hungry birds they droop due to th fruity goodness. If a few birds have pecked the berries they are less likely to weigh down the bunch. Some berries may have even started to raisin and these are no problem simply being sun dried elderberries that will release flavour into the wine when fermenting.

When picking stay away from clusters that have been… er… crapped on by hungry birds, or those that look mildewy. South facing clusters ripen first as do trees that are close to water but they are more likely to covered in mildew, cobwebs and flies sadly. Picking a fully ripe cluster of berries should be easy as they snap easily off as the stems become brittle. Less mature berries will need a firmer pull or even a pair of scissors. Best to be patient and wait. Never pick clusters that have green or red berries as you are just wasting fruit and will cause an elderberry arms race with other foragers as they try to keep up. The trees are not yours to own either, you have no right to the berries and don’t damage branches getting at them as they are food for migrating birds and small mammals when they fall to the ground. If they are out of reach they are out of bounds in my view.

Black berries and red stem identify the elderberry.

2kg is a lot of berries so a few foraging trips may be needed over a few weeks as bunches mature at different times. The berries keep in the freezer and this is in fact beneficial as freezing will destroy up to half the pectin if done for seven days or more as well as bursting internal cell walls to allow more juice to be extracted. Once you get elderberries home it is essential to pluck the berries from the stems this can easily be done with a gentle rolling with your hands though some use a fork for ease. I find the fork pulls small stems with them so it causes more problems that is solves. If a few immature berries have made it into your possession they will float when you rinse them. Sugar laden ripe berries are heavier than water and sink.


Stems might not kill you but could cause problems for people with heart problems or children. It should be noted that the leaves are too so don’t have any ideas turning an oak leaf wine recipe into an elder leaf wine recipe. The roots can be fatal if ingested so no licking.

400g of foraged, destemmed elderberries ready to freeze

As Elderberries are the Englishman’s grape they need no tannin adding artificially and in fact it is easy to create an overly tannic wine. Little acid is added to get them into shape and sugar is relatively high too. The skins are thick and contain a high level of flavour so cold maceration will help extract flavour, aroma and colour. I have mine cold soaking for five days but plan to remove the berries early in primary fermentation. This is to limit the extraction of too much tannin through alcoholic extraction – this does mean I can reuse the skins and yeast adding 2kg of blackberries and sugar to make a second run of “Elder and Black” wine.


Elderberry wine will be started at the weekend so check back for that…

A few days later the second run Elder and Black will start will full details given so keep an eye out for that too…