The first sparkling wine I made nearly took my eye out with the explosive force when we popped the cork. After Ms Gazette had stopped laughing and the cat was found we had a great strawberry champagne that was far beyond what I had imagined I could make and was better than the commercial bottle I used as a control. The second was a little nerve racking as it was 12 bottles for a friends wedding but that all went swimmingly too… he still talks to me at least.

Strawberry Sham-pagne

I already plan to make an elderflower shampagne and might make a dandelion fauxseco this year and have just turned last years gooseberry wine into the latest batch of er… sparkling wine. Crisp dry whites are probably best but I may well try and carbonate a second run medium bodied elderberry & blackberry wine about this time next year. You’re making it so go crazy as the world is your lobster.

I am assuming that like me you are making a small batch of champagne – six to twelve bottles using a British gallon or two of wine. If you are making a bigger batch have a read through this exhaustive guide by Jack Keller: http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/sparkling.asp

The process is surprisingly easy using a simplified “méthode champenoise” to create a second fermentation in the bottle. As the new fermentation happens the gas is trapped and dissolves in the wine creating all those lovely bubbles. As there is a lot of pressure created you must use champagne bottles. They are made with thicker glass, stronger necks and may well be shaped or have a domed base to deal with the pressure. Along with those you need some hollow plastic corks and cages. The bottle is stored upside down so that the yeast collects in the corks cavity and either compacts enough to be removed when opened or the bottle can be riddled – freezing the wine in the cap then swapping it for a new sediment free one. The cage and upturned bottle keeps the cork in place so the pressure does not create a wine time bomb popping the cork out.

Sparkling wine corks
Hollow plastic “corks” for sparkling wine.

There are a few yeasts that can be used for the second fermentation and the most popular is EC1118 though others like Premier Curvee, WLP715 or CL23 are all available. The yeast does not need to be used for the the initial fermentation when making the base wine so you can match two yeasts to make the best base wine and then carbonate with the sparkling wine yeast. Most people will just happily plough through with EC1118 as it is easy, dependable and tastes excellent.

The gooseberry wine was over six months old and at the age I normally bottle. When making it I did not use any campden after the primary fermentation so that there is little to hamper the new yeast as it is already being introduced to hostile alcohol rich environment. The wine was totally dry at 0.99 gravity so I know how much it will carbonate as the sugar is directly responsible for the carbon dioxide produced thus pressure created. No sediment was falling being nice a clear and almost totally degassed naturally. 17g of sugar will make an American style four atmosphere fizz and 25g creates a French style six atmosphere fizz. Sparkling wines are always more carbonated than bears that will be between one and a half to three atmospheres. If using a young wine with lots of carbon dioxide still dissolved plan for the US style four atmospheres for safety.

Sparkling wine kit and ingredients
All you need to turn your wine to sparkling wine.

Two days work will need to happen before bottling so make sure you have the nights set aside. Also kit needs to be scrupulously sanitised as you go.

First a starter needs to be made to kick start the second fermentation. Separate 750ml of wine from the demijohn into a sanitised litre bottle or jar. Reseal the demijohn and pop it away safely, as there is head space here is a slight chance of oxidation but unlikely. The wine needs 13g of sugar and perhaps a 1/4 tsp of yeast nutrient stirred in before adding the yeast. Some yeasts like Vintners Harvest/Mangrove Jacks have the nutrient already present so have a check. When the yeast is added seal the bottle as you would with any other fermentation with a bung and airlock and allow the yeast to sit and hydrate for a couple of hours. Some yeast may float some may fall but if it is happy it will start to swell and dissolve and it is then ready to stir in thoroughly.

Sparkling wine seperated
Starter and base wine separated. The yeast makes the starter look paler.

There will never be a heavy bubbling during this second fermentation as the yeast is really pushing towards its limits in an alcohol rich environment. There may be small bubbles rising, some may collect on the surface and there will certainly be gentle airlock activity. The must should be kept at more or less room temperature rather than in a cooler bulk ageing environment.

Sparkling wine starter
Happy yeast fermenting in the starter.

After 24 hours add 40ml of sanitised water to dilute the new alcohol and add another 13g of sugar to feed the yeast and leave for another 24 hours. This time will allow the yeast to acclimatise as much as possible and minimise the chance of a stuck second fermentation.

It might be a good time to start and clean and sanitise the bottles and caps at this point. The bottles should be spotlessly clean as always and the caps can either be boiled for ten minutes and left to cool or sanitised in campden or no rinse sanitiser. If boiling the caps to sterilise them be sure to make sure they are cool and thus strong enough to push into the bottles. Hot caps are soft and deform easily!

Recombining to make the sparkling wine
Recombining the base wine, starter and sugar.

Once the starter is viable and happy the remainder of the wine should be prepared. Decide on either a four or six atmosphered wine. Four atmospheres will need 17g of sugar added per bottle thus 102g per British gallon. A European style six atmosphere wine will need 25g per bottle thus 150g per British gallon. Add the sugar to the demijohn and stir into the wine thoroughly. Then add the starter and stir thoroughly again.

Filling the bottles

This sugar and yeast rich wine is now ready to pour into the champagne bottles and cap. Personally I choose to use a jug rather than an auto-syphon as it allows the wine to be stirred between pours dispersing the dense sugar and yeast evenly. Cages are essential should be used twisting to get a good tight seal – this may take a few attempts as the brittle wire will tear if over tightened. Once capped upend and stand on their heads and cellar. After a month give the bottle a swift twist to encourage the sediment to settle into the caps but resist the temptation to shake the bottles.


Sparkling wine cork and cage
Caging wild sparkling wine is not cruel.

Fermentation may take about a month but the originating fruit will determine how long the wine should be matured. Rhubarb and gooseberry will need at least 18 months from the initial fermentation, elderflower about a year and strawberry possibly as little as six to nine months.



Parsnip wine 7 days old
Parsnip wine entering secondary

Give people a glass of parsnip wine and they will be surprised to hear it is made from an albino carrot. The wine has a naturally sweet taste with an earthy undertone and reportedly tastes like a Medeira – oddly a wine I traditionally hate. Personally I do think it is a sherry like wine and this year I may thoroughly oxidise a few bottles to see if it can get closer to that style.

If you are making this with your own crop wait until the first overnight frost as this changes the starches into sugars. If the parsnips are shop bought they will be loaded with sugar already. When boiling to extract flavour and sugars do not over do it as the remaining starch will be liberated and take an age to settle in bulk ageing – it is not impossible but does take a number of months at least. Most recipes suggest boiling roughly chopped cubes but I have better success with grated parsnips as this takes less time to boil and less time exposed to heat that could potentially destroy flavour. The flesh will be soft but not mushy and if they are finely chopped almost see through.

Parsnip wine is cheap and easy to make with few ingredients. No tannin needs to be added and it is in good balance naturally. A little extra body is generally needed either from raisins or bananas but some people prefer to leave it au naturel with a more “whiskey” like flavour. Lemon zest, orange juice and zest or ginger can be added for various different flavour additions.  I was considering using lime juice as this pairs well with beetroot wine and I thought this may similarly benefit but that is an experiment for next year.

Parsnip wine fermentation
Primary fermentation at two and five days looks horrible!

Leaving the wine pays dividends and it will noticeably mature between the 12 to 18 month mark though it could be left for a couple of years I’m sure.

PARSNIP WINE 4.5 litres

1.75kg parsnips
1 to 1.3kg sugar to 1.09SG
4.5L water
500g raisins
1 lemon juice and zest
2 oranges juice and zest
1 tsp pectolase
1 tsp yeast nutrient
White wine yeast

Parsnip wine ingredients
Parsnip wine ingredients

Wash parsnips then chop and boil skins and all for 15 minutes, Flesh should be softened but not breaking up.

Parsnip wine slicing and boiling
Remove the woody tops but leave the skins when preparing

Strain the parsnips through muslin into primary fermentation and discard.

Add the raisins and zests while liquid is still hot.

Parsnip wine a
My giant industrial strainer got a chance to shine!

When cool add pectolase and leave for 12 to 24 hours to work.

Add sugar, lemon and orange juice and sugar to desired level.

Add yeast and nutrient then cover for primary fermentation.

Colour mellows with age. This is just before bottling from a previous vintage.

Rack into secondary fermentation when it slows and rack when over. More may be needed if starch was boiled from the parsnips.

Age for one year at least and 18 months if you can.


Rosehip wine at 8 days
Rosehip wine at eight days old.

Rosehips as every one tells you are packed 10000% vitamin C and can destroy the cold virus at a hundred paces. Natures little apothecary cabinet wrapped up in a little red berry thing. Screw that were making wine.

Picked Rosehips
Harvested rosehips.

Rosehips can be harvested around September onwards and have a decent sized window to grab them. Traditionally they were picked after the first frost as this changes starches into abundant sugar in the flesh of the hips. Now we have freezers that can be picked when they are plump with a slight give when squeezed but not wrinkled or squishy. The freezer will do the job of a frost and means they can be kept indefinitely. If you cannot wait till the autumn dried rosehips are common in mung been selling health shops and brew shops online. Dried rosehip wine is made with a different ratio of hips as the extraction differs.

As I had a full compliment of wines ageing in all my demijohns I was unable to start the wine when I picked the rosehips. I sliced the woody end off the top and then froze them for a couple of months. Topping them means that the woodier taste will not infuse when the wine is in primary fermentation and the softer flesh is exposed to the water to extract as much flavour and sugar as possible. Slicing the tops was labourious and I was contemplating slicing them down the middle and removing the fur covered pips too. This was basically impossible as it would have taken an absolute age to do. The seeds have tannins in them and this adds body to the wine naturally rather than adding it with a tannin or tea additive.

Thawing rosehips
The frozen hips were allowed to defrost over night.

Once a demijohn freed up I left the hips in a sanitised stainless steel pan to defrost over night. A blanch of boiling water was used to kill any wild yeasts and bacteria that might have clung on during the freeze. I have seen a few differing ideas on preparing the hips but personally I did not want to chop them in a food blender as this will rupture the bitter seeds and there was no need to strenuously mash or boil the fruit either as the soft flesh purées easily during the fermentation.As rosehips are high in pectin I added pectic enzyme to break this down allowing a generous 24 hours for it to do its work.

Fermentation was gentle with the VR21 yeast I selected with little foam and a nice perfume given off as it happily bubbled away A slower fermentation means that aroma will kept better than a faster more vigerous fermentation. Any white wine yeast would probably do and EC1118 may be another good choice if you like the classic champagne taste. The flavour is seems more suited for a slightly sweet or sweet wine and would probably be good for a sparkling rosé. It tastes good even at a young age entering secondary fermentation but almost all reports state to leave it 2 years to mature. I am hoping that this may challenge the elderflower wine as a versatile floral white with the advantage it can be made in the autumn and winter months rather than the elderflower’s springtime harvest and ferment. A nice easy wine to make this is ideal for a beginner.


ROSEHIP WINE – 4.5 Litres

Floral fruity white/rose wine suitable to back sweeten or make into a sparkling wine. White wine yeast needed and should probably be un-oaked. Batonnage may be good to provide a more complex flavour. 24 months to age.


1.5kg rosehips

About 1kg sugar to 1.08SG

Juice of 3 lemons

4.5l water


Pectic enzyme

Rosehip wine ingredients
With so few ingredients this is an easy wine to make.



Pick the rosehips and slice of the woody end and pick off any stems still left on. If before a frost has occurred freeze them for at least 24 hours (leave to defrost if frozen)

Mash the rosehips with a sanitised potato masher or rolling pin to break the flesh a little then pour over 4.5 litres of water and leave to return to room temperature. Add 1tsp of pectic enzyme and leave for 24 hours to allow pectin to be destroyed.

Pectolase and gravity
Pre and post pectic enzyme and hydrometer reading.

Add the juice of three lemons and the sugar until it hits 1.08SG and then pitch the yeast.

Leave to ferment to 1.01SG and then transfer into air-locked secondary fermentation by pouring through sanitised muslin/cheese cloth. The rosehips can be squeezed to extract maximum flavour if desired.

Fermentation at 1 day and 3 days
Top – fermentation begins. Bottom – day three of fermentation.

Rack if needed to remove the sediment that builds up at week five or six and then further if needed.

Bottle after six months – the wine is suitable to stabilise and back sweeten to your own taste. Drink two years after pitching the yeast.



Sloe gin
Two year matured sloe gin

This year has seen a decent harvest of sloes by friends and I plan to forage a few to get the ripest I can. It compares nicely to the terrible harvest last year when I collected none. Two years ago was sloe nirvana with big fat sloes on every bush. I harvested enough for two types of wine that are fruity and suited to a Christmas tipple and great added to champagne. I also made two litres of sloe gin.


Sloe gin 2
Sloe work

Sloe gin is the best flavoured gin you can get. Warm, sweet, slightly nutty with a deep taste that gets better if drunk slowly with a good tonic. The depth of taste is matched by the simplicity of the recipe and the hardest issue is leaving it long enough to mature. If the sloes are picked now it could be ready for Christmas, if left maturing another year it becomes deeper and richer and another year after that it becomes exceptional and far better than any commercial sloe gin I have drunk.

SLOE GIN – 750ml
250 to 400g sloes
750 ml gin. Best supermarket or Gordon’s. No need for anything more expensive.
125g white sugar (more to taste if you want once mature)
Rind of 1 orange (no pith)
1/4 cinnamon stick (recipes use too much in my view so that is why I only use half the amount)

Optional – I don’t think you need them as the sloes have a complex taste that improves with age – but this is your drink so tailor it to your tastes.
Cloves – no more than 3
1 blanched almond (boil a raw almond for exactly one minute)
3 coffee beans
Vanilla pod
1/4 star anise
Lemon zest

1. Freeze the sloes over night to bust the cells (it’s a myth that it needs to be done to turn starch to sugar, or that sloes need a frost to be ripe.)
2. Use a potato peeler to zest the orange – make sure there is no pith. Add all the ingredients together in a cleaned Kilner jar – about 1.5l does it. Shake it vigorously to get the sugar to start to dissolve.
3. Over the next two weeks little shake every day.
4. Leave it to sit happily in the dark at a cool temperature (the cupboard under the stairs is ideal)

Ready to drink by Christmas but can be left for up to two years. No need to remove the sloes if you bottle it.


Sloe Chutney
Sloe chutney

But wait! The sloes from sloe gin can be recycled into a kick ass chutney. What can be better than a sloe gin, cheese and some home made chutney on a cold winters night? I have paired the sloes with quince, another winter fruit and they compliment each other with one aromatic and one sour. The spices used compliment either one or the other main fruit. Apples are used to provide a sauce as floury apples like Pink Lady will puree as they are cooked.


Sloe chutney ingredients
Sloe chutney ingredients

The chutney needs a little time to prepare the sloes by squeezing the flesh off the stones. The easiest sloes are ones that have macerated in the gin for longest – another reason to leave it to mature for two years. Squeeze them top and bottom and most of the flesh pops away.

Sloes from sloe gin
3 quince
2 apples
2 red onions
2tsp cumin seed
2tsp mustard seed
1tsp coriander seed
½tsp fennel seed
½tsp cayenne pepper
½tsp pepper corns
1cm of cinnamon stick
2 oranges – juice and rind but no pith
400ml cider vinegar
300g demerara sugar

Chutney is not an exact science and ginger, lemon rind, raisins, apricots, cardamom, paprika and any number of other ingredients can be added or substiuted. The general ratio is 1kg of fruit and vegetables need 300ml of vinegar and 300g of sugar to preserve.


Prepping sloes
Preparing the sloes

1. Rinse the sloes removes from the sloe gin. Give a quick rinse to remove any tannin that has built up on them. Squeeze them holding the top and bottom to pop the flesh from the stones.
2. Throw the stones away and then use a food processor to mince the sloes to a reasonably fine mix. It does not need to be a puree.
3. Pop them in a heavy bottomed pan and then finely dice the onion and add, then the grated zest of the oranges.
4. Use a pestle and mortar to crush the spices to a fine powder and add to the pot.
5. Juice the orange and add along with the cider vinegar.
6. Peal and quarter a quince and cut out and discard the hard woody cores. Dice them into small pieces and stir them into the vinegar to stop them browning in the air. Repeat for the rest of the quince.
7. Repeat for the apples.
8. Add the sugar and stir all the mixture so that the sugar dissolves.


Prepping sloes 2
Sloes and orange zest awaiting other ingredients, fully mixed, simmered for an hour.

9. Turn on the heat and start to simmer the mixture. Stir regularly once it starts to bubble. Never boil but keep it lightly bubbling and stir every now and again so it does not stick to the base of the pot. Once the mixture becomes thick and there is no free liquid but a fudge/toffee like sugary coating remove from the heat.
10. Store in sealed sanitised jars and leave to mature for at least a month and preferably three before opening to eat. The chutney can save for at least two years if kept air tight in a cool space. If a jar is opened refrigerate.



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.


Rum Northumbriana
Thats either Jupiter or… Marrow Rum

So before I get a whole load of moaning emails I want to clear a few things up. Firstly, I know this is not Rum. I know what Rum is. Rum is made from fermented sugar cane… and this is made from a marrow. A marrow fermented in a sock. Let’s not get too hung up the nomenclature.

Mind you, any one that insists on calling a marrow a zucchini needs a good hiding, and as I’m from the North East I should be calling it a marra’.

Marrows are the world’s worst vegetable. A bloated courgette that is good for nothing except making rum apparently. The initial idea came from some notes that funny uncle Michael gave to me from his mid-70s wine making that I have somehow inherited. There has been a revolution in kit, ingredients and ideas in amateur wine making so most have some rather out dated methods, they are a pleasure to read and there are one or two great ideas and inspirations there. Making “Northumbrian Rum” seemed like a particularly bad idea so it really appealed and there are various other methods I have seen since.

Rum Northumbriana recipe
“The Inspiration”

The basic idea is to deseed a marrow, pack it with sugar and wine yeast, reseal and then leave to ferment. Light or dark sugar is used in differing recipes and some add raisins either during or after the marrow fermentation. This is a real prison hooch operation so organisation is rather haphazard so I doubt there is a true “marrow rum pot” to make this in an elegant fashion. With the prison hooch stylings there is a totally illegal (both in Britain and Hamburgerland) method of ice distillation that can increase the ABV by freezing the finished rum and letting the more alcoholic mixture melt and be saved with the water being discarded. If they are reading I would just like to tell MI5 and GCHQ that I have not done this.


1 large marrow

1ish kg of demerara sugar

1 orange



Rum Northumbriana ingredients
Rum Northumbriana ingredients

Wash you marrow (ooh-er!) chop of the top and scoop out the seeds.

Fill your cavity (ooh-er!) with demerara sugar, give it a tap and then top it up if space is created.

Marrow Rum 1
No turning back…

Juice an orange and pout in the juice. Give it a tap and top up the sugar again.

Pour in your yeast – make a starter as the packet describes or if no instructions dissolve in water and pour over the sugar.

Marrow Rum 2
You have committed to it…

Place the top on the marrow and tape it shut getting a tight seal.

Pierce the skin of the marrow at the base but do not go through the flesh then wrap in cling film.

Marrow Rum 3
Wooo Hooooooo!

Place it in a container –the more air tight the better so it can drip into a demijohn.

Wait for it to ferment, drip out.

After a week to three months depending on the integrity of the devil’s vegetable squeeze the now desiccated marrow skin to get all the juice out and leave to ferment fully.

Marrow Rum 4
Marra marra marra!

You can now bottle and leave for a year to mature or…

Gather the juice and add more sugar and a high strength yeast. Ferment to the highest alcohol tolerance it can go to – possibly 20% ABV.



Gooseberry wine 2017
Gooseberry wine at seven days old. Just entered secondary fermentation.

My grandparents used to live in the stranger parts of Northumberland with a huge gooseberry bush in the garden that would produce enough gooseberries for crumble for about 19 months of the year which would always be the ending to huge family dinners.

It’s a car park now.


I will never be as green fingered as my granddad and personally have no intention of entering any leek shows but I do want to grow some gooseberries for wine and have invested in some bushes. While I gently kill those through neglect I have to rely on shop bought ones. Gooseberries are seasonal and the pink dessert gooseberries emerge later in the season around July. Pink gooseberries are less tart with a lighter floral flavour than the more common green version. Both can be used to make wine and there are good reports of green gooseberry champagne but I am yet to venture into it. You can use 100% green in a recipe, a combination or 100% pink. It really is down to personal preference and availability but most recipes decide to do a 2/3 split towards the pink.



Gooseberry wine 2016
Gooseberry wine 2016 vintage – opened to test the recipe for this year.

Last year was bit of a nightmare for my gooseberry wine as it was the first time I ever had a stuck fermentation. The yeast would not start fermenting and in the end I had to adjust the acidity with precipitated chalk and use some hardy champagne yeast to get it going. It did provide an opportunity to have two demijohns with differing yeasts in each. It is a nice light white that has cleared to perfection tasting a little like a rosé and as I was restrained and made it a lighter ABV at around 11% the alcohol does not dominate the taste. Ms Gazette seemed particularly taken by it and as she usually likes the full fruitier wines I make rather than the oddities like gorse or oak leaf.

Pressing the gooseberry at 2 days
Gooseberries pre and post press to extract as much juice as possible.

Personally I was a little less satisfied as while very nice I thought it could do with a few changes to the recipe and methods used to make it. The biggest change is pressing the gooseberries two days into the primary fermentation rather than leaving them until the wine moves to secondary at seven to ten days in age. Last years I think was left too long on the skins so an ever so slight after taste entered the wine, with a slight metallic zinc like hint – not enough to ruin it but certainly there. This has been apparent for both of last years wines so it was not yeast or stuck fermentation related as they both varied. The taste was apparent when ever the wine was racked so it seemed to be introduced early into the fermentation. Pressing the gooseberries early with the resulting juice re-entering primary it seems like this has been a success and will be a regular method from now on. I used a press I have invested in but some muslin and strong hands powered by elbow grease are certainly acceptable to squeeze the flavour out. In addition I have decided to jettison the MA33 and EC1118 yeast used last year and moved to Vintners Harvest CY17. I had the last few elderflowers in my freezer so they have been thrown in too. This is simply an addition and the wine will be more than happy with out them.

Gooseberry cold maceration
Top – gooseberries in water then covered thoroughly. Bottom – gooseberries post cold soak three days later then crushed to break the skins

A process used last year was a cold maceration to extract colour, aroma and some flavour out of the berries before they even entered primary fermentation. This required the fruit to sit covered in sterilized water and kept under 15° C – that is 59° Fademheit in American. A cold soak is not needed but it is an easy addition that really seems to pay dividends.


Gooseberry wine fermenting
Quick check with the lid off – Just after being pressed and still in primary fermentation.

With the cold soak and despite the earlier press the juice is a lovely peachy pink hue that is unlike any other wine I have made. Last year the colour seemed to dull just before it was bottled and I believe that gooseberry wine is photosensitive with sunlight dulling the colour but otherwise leaving it unchanged. There are similar issues with prickly pear that turns from a similar pink to amber and beetroot wine turns brown! Orange wine will also dull so all of them need to be either in a green or brown demijohn or be covered thoroughly and kept in the dark as much as possible.




Suitable Yeasts – CY17 or EC1118. White or rose wine best as a lighter 11% ABV. Can be back sweetened but does not need it. Unsuitable for oaking. Can be turned into a sparkling wine. 18 months before opening.



  • 2kg Gooseberries (use pink dessert gooseberries as much as you can)
  • Optional – flowers from 10 sprays of elderflowers
  • 1kg-ish Sugar to 1.08SG
  • 3.5 litres of water
  • Half teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • Yeast



  1. Wash the gooseberries and rub off the top and woodier tail (freezing is optional and a week will break down pectin by a half)
  2. Cold soak for 3 days in two litres of boiled then cooled water in a covered container keeping it below 15°C. FULL GUIDE HERE
  3. After the cold maceration crush thoroughly add the rest of the boiled then cooled water (the elderflowers can be added to the water as it cools if you are using them) sugar, pectic enzyme and leave for 24 hours for it to work.
  4. Pitch yeast and yeast nutrient. Leave to ferment for two days.
  5. Remove gooseberries and press. Add the juice back to primary and discard the skins.
  6. After another four to seven days fermentation will slow (gravity will be at about 1.02) move into secondary fermentation in a clean demijohn with airlock.
  7. Rack at four or five weeks to remove the exhausted yeast, then every two or so months if needed.
  8. Bottle at six months of age and drink at 18 months or later.


Gin tonic and vermouthLast year I transformed a few bottles of my strawberry wine into vermouths making three differing tastes that were used in various cocktails and gin & tonics over the summer months. They were all nice but the more floral version was generally the best, though the blackberry gin paired better with the more spiced version. It was all based upon a lot of reading and not a massive amount of understanding. Pairing tastes together and creating balance is very difficult to do writing it as an abstract recipe. Conversely throwing ingredients into a pot and creating it organically is nerve racking as too much cinnamon or wormwood can obliterate all the other ingredients and hard work that has just occurred. Which ever method is used it will be a steep learning curve with ideas that outmatch your ability. Great fun and maybe with time I can get towards my goal of a vermouth that can be drunk not as cocktail addition but aperitif on its own. Maybe 400 years and I’ll have it all cracked.


I may well return to a strawberry vermouth in the future but the idea of an English vermouth really intrigued me as foraging for ingredients has become one of lifes pleasures as I have become more and more adventurous in my wine making. Vermouth is originally French with the Italians adopting it creating two differing styles but Britain has a long tradition of herbal tonics, infused spirits, spiced chutneys and Nandos so there is no reason why this should not come naturally to me through osmosis… google… trial and error… and advice… if any one gives it…

The Art of Drink had a solid looking basic vermouth recipe so became the basis of mine. (thanks Art of Drink – I’m only borrowing it!) I swapped a few ingredients out of necessity and personal preference as I cannot get quinine in Britain and hate camomile finding it overpowering so decided to use just a smudge of some foraged English walnut leaf.

foraged yarrow

Then I wanted to steer it towards some traditionally English tastes using flowers as this had been the best vermouth I had made. Elderflowers were added as they make a great white wine and can compliment the base wine white used for a vermouth. A few dandelion heads were harvested, though they are becoming rarer with the hottest summer months starting to make them flower less. I had hoped for more to give a gingery hit but had to make do with what I could find. In all honesty I would like three times as many. Dandelion root was also substituted for some of the traditional bittering agents and I did consider hops but thought it might be too vegetal in taste. The last flower to be added was yarrow which is an aromatic weed that happily grows everywhere which I literally stumbled over as I walked home. It grows in small patches as it is rhizomatous (25 points in Scrabble) and has small clumped white or pink flowers with fern like leaves. The leaves are a full on kick to the taste buds but the flowers more mild and taste of a mild aniseed and liquorish and can be found in a fair few vermouth recipes.

I’m not the only person that thought of English vermouth either as there is The Collector Vermouth but I think we can all agree that a professional chef, drink tosser and herb fondler should cower before me the enthusiastic amateur lacking taste buds and modesty. Their vermouth uses an apple spirit as the fortifier rather than the traditional brandy, grappa or in my case white port. Inspired by this I may make a peach or plum spirit as I have them close to hand and easy to forage but this will very much be next years experiment. I did decide to use a smashed peach stone to add a rounded earthy base note though.

There are two versions I made. One with caramelised sugar in a shop bought white wine and another dryer version using my own oak leaf wine which is I hope light enough to take the additions. Caramelising sugar is an easy concept that hides the teeth gnashingly difficult task to do it. Too little heat nothing happens then the slightest hint of too much and it burns to fuck then laughs at you.

Vermouth ingredients


2 x bottles of white wine

400ml of spirit (brandy, grappa, vodka, white port, sherry etc)

200g caramelised sugar

1.5g Wormwood

0.5g Gentian Root (or similar bittering agent)

1g Dandelion root

10g Elderflowers

45 Heads of dandelion petals (I only got 15)

0.25g Camomile flowers or a pinch of walnut leaf

1g Vanilla bean

3 Cardamom pods (shell removed)

4 strips of orange peel (Seville oranges are best)

1g Oregano

0.25g each of rosemary, sage, basil, thyme, coriander seed

10 yarrow flower heads

1 x Cracked peach stone

Caramelising sugarTo caramelise the sugar put it in a good quality heavy pan with 2 tsp of sugar and stir while on a medium heat. As it starts to dissolve stop stirring and start to swirl it around the pan to keep it moving. It will purée more and more to become a syrup and start to boil. Keep it simmering but on the lowest heat you can manage it. After a few minutes it will start to brown. After 10 or so minutes it will be a rich nutty brown. Pour it onto greased proof paper making sure none will pour off as it is so viscous. This syrup has a lot of heat so make sure it cannot damage any counter tops and resist the temptation to stick a finger in it as it is weaponised sugar acting like napalm and can stick to your skin. Leave for an hour to harden.


As the caramelised sugar sets grab some miniature scales and measure out all your ingredients. I made groups so that they could be incrementally added to the boil.

  • Group 1 – Florals – elderflower and dandelion
  • Group 2 – Bitters – wormwood, gentian & dandelion root and coriander seed and the peach stone
  • Group 3 – Herbs – camomile/walnut leaf, vanilla bean, cardamom, orange peel, oregano, rosemary, sage, basil, thyme
  • Group 4 – Yarrow (yarrow’s taste is very delicate so this is the last addition when off the boil)
Organised ingredients
Divide your ingredients to know what and when they get added to your spirit.

Pour the spirit into a good heavy pan and add the group 1 floral elements get it to the boil so it can extract as much flavour.

400ml port
There are no rules about what fortifies your vermouth and opinion varies as to what is best.

When the boil starts reduce it to a simmer and start to time it for 10 minutes. Add the Bitters group straight away.

With 5 minutes to go add the herbs

Steeping ingredients for vermouth
Differing ingredients release flavours in different ways, staggering them maximises them with out extracting woodier tastes.

When 10 minutes are up remove from the boil and add the yarrow flowers as it cools.

Leave until cold in a covered pan and then strain through coffee filters (top up with a little spirit if you need to to get it back towards 400ml.

Combine the cleared infused spirits to the wine then crush the caramelised sugar and add a good portion but reserve about 50g.

Taste test and add more sugar if desired.

Vermouth lunch
You deserve a test drive.

Ready to drink right away in a cocktail though a few days wait to muddle is recommended. Can be kept indefinitely but best used with in three months – once open and in use refrigerate and use with in a month if you can.

If any one has any experience hints, tips or recommendations I would love to hear it!!!







Blackberry port 7 days old
Blackberry port at 7 days old.

As everyone knows Port is a rich fortified wine that helped red nosed bankers deal with the pain of working through a boozy lunch and leering at secretaries. Sorry… sorry… it is a rich fortified wine made in the Duoro Valley in Portugal and became popular with the British when they were having a biff boff match with the French who kept all the good wine to themselves. It is generally but not necessarily sweet and of a higher ABV than wine at about 18 to 20% that comes from fortification using a 100% proof brandy like spirit called aguadente. If Port does not come from its traditional home it is often called Oporto.

Blackberries and pectic enzyme
The absolute mountain of mashed blackberries used

I am making neither Port or Oporto as I cannot get aguadente, don’t live in Portugal and I’m not using grapes. I do want to make a port style wine that is rich, full bodied, strongly oaked and reasonably sweet to be used as an aperitif and as a Christmas present for Papa Gazette – don’t worry the sausage fingered old buffer cannot use a mobile phone never mind the internet so this will be a total surprise for him.

Dessert gooseberries are too similar to white grapes for this and blackcurrants would create a drink too close to Ribena for my liking. This left blueberries and blackberries as the likely candidates with blackberries eventually chosen for their rich dark taste. I have read about using Damsons which sounds intriguing but I will leave that for another year if I can find some to forage.


Blackberry port must
Blackberry port must is thicker and darker than the traditional table wine.

Compared to a traditional blackberry wine this uses at least double the fruit at 4kg minimum. I actually went with 4.5kg because I am greedy. Making fruit based ports is far less about recipe as constant tinker and adjustment through the fermentation to maximise the alcohol created. The recipe is a guide only and as you are constantly monitoring it during primary fermentation it is a some what organic process. With more juice macerating there is generally no need to add any extra acid and with more skins macerating and 20g of oak chips added for three months there will be more tannin present lengthening the ageing process – this probably need a minimum of 1.5 years to mature and may well get better and better over three or four.

As well as extra fruit there will be extra sugar as it has a higher desired ABV of 18% This is unfortified but the yeast was incrementally feed with sugar to get the highest alcohol it can produce and tolerate. Some choose to use grape concentrates, raisins, extra tannin as tea or malt extract to give various versions of extra body to the port. I have decided to use 500g of raisins as this has done wonders for my traditional blackberry wine and 70g of extra light dry malt, added for flavour – it should be noted this is only for taste rather in beer when it is “mashed” to extract the sugars for fermentation.. I think… I’m not a beer maker. This malt will give a fuller richer taste and hopefully take the place of the aguadente. I am choosing to probably not fortify in any way but some add brandy or vodka or a combination of the two to pump up the alcohol content – I will only really decide when the port has aged just before bottling it.

The start gravity is the usual 1.09 using the hydrometer to measure it. It will be fed incrementally with more sugar added whenever the hydrometer drops to 1.03. In total 2.2kg of sugar has been added through the primary fermentation and there was the larger reserve of ambient sugar in the huge amount of blackberries used. The yeast will eventually be killed by its own bi product – the ethanol it makes as it ferments. When the yeast dies the sediment changes from the cream looking pure yeast layer to a pinkish hue with the yeast and blackberry solids. This is from less agitation because of the yeast dying so the fruit solids can more easily fall out of suspension. With no active yeast I feel no need to use any campden and sorbate to stabilise the wine before bottling – others may well have their reasons to do so though.


Suitable yeast – champagne, port, burgundy styles


4kg blackberries (more can be added if physical space allows)

500g raisins

Approximately 2kg or more of sugar

70g light malt

500ml water


Pectic enzyme

Blackberry port ingredients
Blackberry port ingredients (precautionary lemon shown – added only if acidity needs adjusting)

Mince the raisins and drop into 500ml boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the malt when when removed from the heat and leave to cool

Mincing raisins for port
Raisins add vinocity

Wash and mash the blackberries (in a sanitized pot is best) then add to the now cooling raisins and water.

Mashing blackberries for port
That is about a third of the blackberries!

Leave to get to room temperature then add a tsp of pectic enzyme and one or two campden tablets to sanitize and leave covered for 24 hours.

If you can get the blackberry pulp into a fermenting bag to stop unwanted plugs and “boil over” occuring during fermentation.


Stir in 0.5 to 1kg of sugar so the must is at 1.09 Start Gravity ( Do not add all the sugar)

Add the yeast according to their instructions.

Stir twice a day (and squeeze the bag at least a little if you can)

When the gravity drops to 1.03 add more sugar – 300 to 500g

Repeat until gravity radically slows in reducing.

Transfer to secondary fermentation vessel and squeeze as much juice from the fermentation bag if you used it. Add the air lock and leave in secondary fermentation.

Rack if sediment gets to 1.3cm deep or after 5 weeks which ever is earlier. Top up with santisied water or grape concentrate.

Rack again at 13 weeks old, then 25 weeks.

Back sweeten to your own taste!

Bottle or if you can leave to bulk age for 3 to 6 months then bottle.

Probably needs at least two years to mature.






Walnut leaf wine 6 days old
Walnut leaf wine: six days old entering secondary fermentation.

English walnuts can be be added to the list of English things that are not English just like tea, fish & chips and the royal family. English walnuts – Juglens Regia are probably from Persia, adopted by the Greeks then Romans and can be found all over the world including England.

Walnut leaf
Walnut leaf

Iran is not that big on wine making but there are various uses of green walnuts in liqueurs like Italian Nocino or Orahovac from Croatia with almost every European country having a variant on it. The French make Vin De Noix again with green walnuts but in red wine rather than a spirit base. Mature walnuts can be used for amaretto/frangellico like liqueurs. There are several black walnut bitters from America to add a deep smokey tobacco-esque taste to cocktails and finally the leaves can be used to make wine. Walnut trees really do seem to be the unsung hero of DIY drinkers.


Many leaves can be used to make wine with oak, grape, bramble, maple, beech, lime or birch. Walnut leaf and particularly black walnut leaf wine are meant to be the best of the lot and I have been wanting to make it for a while. Finding walnut trees is tricky in Britain – English walnut trees are rare and American/black walnut trees (Juglens Nigra) even more so. Around Vintner HQ there happened to be a tree that was sadly next to Walthamstow’s busiest road. I don’t really want to make walnut & diesel soot wine. As if to rub it in there was a tree on common land that was too small to harvest leaves from. I want 6 bottles of wine but do not want to kill a tree in the process. Then there was a black walnut tree in a park so off limits… Mother Nature seems to be bit of a tease it seems. It has taken over a year to track down trees that are both suitable and possible to forage. Sadly these are just English walnut trees… but they are walnut trees!

American black walnuts
Juglens Nigra: the black or American walnut tree

Walnut trees are wide stocky lads with stout trunks and large canopies. Early in the year there have distinctive catkins and small walnuts start to form in late May. The leaves are pinnate with Ameican and English trees having slight variation in size and shape but they both have a very distinct scent. Rub the young leaves and they will smell like a lime flavoured nail polish… mmmmm!

English walnuts
Juglens Regia: the English, common or Persian walnut tree (Londinium Orientalis Hipsterus can be seen sheltering under the tree)

These pungent leaves are far stronger than others that make wine. Oak leaf wine needs 3 to 4.5 litres of leaves picked to make 4.5 litres of wine, walnut only needs a fraction of that at ¾litre so picking is far easier. There are spring and more tannic autumn harvested oak leaf wines but walnut leaves should be harvested only when they are young and fragrant in May or June. The recipe is essentially the same with oranges and lemons adding some acid with their juice and also flavour with the zest. I have chosen to use raisins to add body though some prefer to leave this out for a more esoteric brew suited as an aperitif, while others use white grape concentrate or even a malt extract. If you do want the more aperitif like wine use light brown demerara sugar instead of regular white sugar to the same amount.


Spring time oak leaf wine is herbal and light but with the young walnut must there is currently a smooth caramel like taste that is certainly richer. I am hoping the walnut leaf will be a stronger with a warmer nuttier taste coming through. Using my oak leaf wine as a guide I will need to let this mature for at least 18 months or possibly even two years. Six months from now I will have four bottles sealed and aging and the remaining 1.5 litres will sit in a small demijohn to oxidise. The idea is that this will make a fino like sherry as they often have nuttier tastes – there is no way I am investing in any flor yeast or moving to Jerez so lets agree to call it a Faux-no.

Before you start cover every surface that might come into contact with the leaves. Walnuts stain and were a traditional source of dyes and the leaves have the potential to stain wood and clothing.

WALNUT LEAF WINE – 4.5 litres
Suitable yeasts – white wine like CL23, SN9 and others

Up to 1L freshly picked walnut leaves
200g raisins
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Juice of 4 oranges and zest of 2
Juice of 2 lemons and zest
Yeast nutrient
4.5l water

Walnut leaf wine ingredients
Walnut leaf wine ingredients

Pick and then rinse the leave to remove any hitch hiking spiders. Pour over the 3.5L of boiling water and leave for 24 hours. Any longer than one day soaking will release far too much bitter tannin that will dominate.

Walnut leaf wine infusing
One pan of leaves the other of zests and raisins

As the leaves steep boil the roughly chopped raisins and lemon and orange zest in the remaining litre of water.

Orange and lemons zested
Two oranges can be left un-zested

Sieve the leaves out of the water once the 24 hours has elapsed and combine with the raisins and zest. Add the sugar, lemon & orange juice and stir till the sugar has dissolved.

Soak strain mix ferment
Clockwise top left: Steeping leaves, strained away, added to the zests and raisins then in primary fermentation.

Add the yeast & nutrient according to its instructions. Leave to ferment in primary and then transfer to an air locked demijohn when fermentation slows after five to 10 days leaving the raisins and zests behind.

Walnut leaf wine end of primary
Lid removed just before being transferred to secondary fermentation.

Rack if sediment builds and certainly at one then two months to remove the settled yeast.
Leave to bulk age in a demijohn for as long as you can – six months at least.
Bottle and open a minimum 18 months after starting.