Tag: Elderberry wine


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…