Elderberry Wine: the Best Home-Made Wine

elderberry wine
The still concentrated wine, in secondary fermenters.

wine label
The wine label I designed for this.

This page last updated 09/07/2018

A short update: the wine is happily sitting in the carboys.  A long hospital stay kept me from racking it off.  When I recover a bit more, I will rack it off and examine it to see if it has cleared.  Friends of mine are anxious to try the stuff.  I don't wish to rush the wine, but I am really looking forward to sharing it with them.

*****

I must preface this all by saying that my elderberry wine is still in its secondary fermenters.  When it is bottled, I will post a video of me trying it.

I had a bottle of elderberry melomel I made a few years previously.  I met this woman who was staying at the upstairs apartment.  So I uncorked it, and made a steak dinner for her and me.  We spent hours outside, drinking the wine, and talking about everything and anything.  It was a night I would not trade for anything.

Good wine is not just about the flavor and whether it can stand up to a commercial wine.  Good wine is also about the memories it brings.  Wine should bemade to be enjoyed with others.      

After doing my groundbreaking Red Hot Yeast on Elderberry Action!!! video, I realized that some fans would be interested in the methods (and recipe) I used to make that wine.  I wanted to make 20 gallons, but was rather hampered by my lack of equipment (that will be corrected early next month).  So I decided to improvise.  Other winemakers, perhaps lacking equipment or space, might find this interesting.

As for progress: The first batch of elderberry wine, and the small wine, are in a 5 gallon carboys.  The blending wine (see below) is fermenting, and will be ready in a few days.

One question should be addressed: why did I do it the way I did?  I could have simply divided the recipe in two, and  used two 5 gallon carboys, instead of bothering with all that rigmarole of blending and all of that.

First off, I had a mouse get into my dried elderberries.  I needed to use the ones he didn't touch right away, or risk having him eat all of them. 

This was done by necessity: I had one ale pail and one 5 gallon carboy.  I had ordered more carboys and ale pails, but they were due to arrive in about a week.  I wanted to get the wine started ASAP, so doing it in a concentrated batch was the way to go.

Elderberry Wine

4 pounds dried elderberries
4 ounces dried elder flowers
10 pounds sugar
2 TBS citric acid
2 TBS yeast nutrient
water to 5 gallons
1 packet Montrachet wine yeast

Set one gallon water to boiling.  Ad elderberries and elder flowers.  Turn off heat and stir.  Cover with lid and let sit for 1 hour.

In the meantime, wash out your ale pail.  Pour in 4 gallons of cold water, and add the sugar, citric acid and yeast nutrient.  Pour in water and elderberry mixture.  Sprinkle yeast on top, attach lid, and attach airlock.

Allow to sit for a week.  You will soon see the airlock bubbling away.  This shows that the yeast is active, and is producing alcohol.

*** After a week, fermenting should slow down or stop entirely.  Get a sieve and a second washed ale pail.  Put 1/4 tsp if sodium metabisulfate into the bottom of the second pail.    Be sure to wash your hands.  Get the sieve and hold it on one hand.  Get a clean beer mug and dip some of the elderberry must and pour it into the sieve, holding the sieve over the second ale pail.  Using the mug, push on the elderberry mix, squeezing all the juice you can out of the berries.  Put the squeezed berries in a large bowl.  You will need them later.  Chances are you will have space left in the carboy.  Just add water until it comes to the neck.

When you have squeezed the juice off of all of the berries, put the second ale pale on a chair or something to raise it above the ground.  Siphon the liquid into a cleaned 5 gallon water carboy.  Attach a bung and airlock onto the carboy, and place it where it can sit undisturbed.

Small Elderberry Wine

French winemakers often make what they call small wine.  They take the grape skins they squeezed out, and add water, sugar, and acid, and ferment that out to make a batch of lighter wine.  This can be dome with elderberries too. 

Squeezed elderberries
10 pounds sugar
2 TBS citric acid
2 TBS yeast nutrient
water to 5 gallons

This is fairly simple.  Combine all of the above in a clean ale pail.  Attach lid and airlock, and put it in a place where it will not be disturbed.

It will ferment just like the wine above.  After a week, it will calm down, and you can go on to the step marked with three asterisks.

Blend Wine

Here comes the fun part.  With both the regular wine and the small wine, you will need to make two batches of the following:

  3 gallons water
2 gallons white grape juice
6 pounds sugar
2 TBS citric acid
1 TBS yeast nutrient
1 packet Montrachet yeast

Mix it all together in a clean ale pail, attach lid and airlock.

Allow to ferment for a week, until fermentation dies down.  Now comes the fun part.

**** When you siphon the wine, do not siphon the yeast too.  Leave that behind.  Use of an auto siphon will prevent yest from getting sucked up.

Get your 5 gallon carboy of elderberry wine, and put it on a raised area.  Put two clean ale pails under it.  Using a siphon and the measuring guide on the ale pail, siphon in 2 1/2 gallons of elderberry wine into each pail.  You might have extra wine.  Siphon that into a 1 gallon jug and attach an airlock.  It doesn't matter if the jug is less than full; you will be using that wine in the next step.

Now, get the 5 gallon carboy containing just the fermented grape juice, sugar and water, and put it on that shelf.  Siphon 2 1/2 gallons of that into each ale pail; you should have 5 gallons in each.  As before, siphon the remainder into that gallon jug, and refit airlock.

Now, clean out your 5 gallon carboys.  Siphon each batch of blended wine into each 5 gallon carboy.  You will probably come a bit short.  No problem!  Just pour that blended liquid you had in the gallon jug to top it all off to the carboys' neck.  Fit bungs and airlocks, and put them in a quiet place.

Note: you might find yourself still coming up a bit short.  Just pour some white grape juice into the top until it reaches neck level on the carboy.

What do you do with the small wine?  Follow the same instructions as above.

And then, to wait.  About every month or two, siphon the wines off of the yeast on the bottom into clean carboys, reattaching airlocks.  Periodically check the wine with a good, strong flashlight, aiming it through the carboy and at yourself.  If you see what looks like a red ruby, with no cloudiness, it's time to bottle.

Chances are it will remain a bit cloudy.  You can either let it sit some more, or you can be proactive about it.  There is a chemical called bentonite which is used to clear wines.   It does a great job.  You do lose some wine, as it leaves a very thick sludge on the bottom of the 5 gallon carboy. 

Bentonite  should only be added to wine that has stopped fermenting.

For 20 gallons you would need:

9 TBS bentonite
6 cups boiling water

Mix the two together.  Whirl around in a blender until completely mixed.  Allow to sit for an hour or so to get fully hydrated.

Use 2 TBS of this per gallon.  A 5 gallon batch would require 10 TBS. 

How to do it:

Have a clean 5 gallon carboy handy.  In a bowl, add the 10 TBS of bentonite mixture and 3/4 tsp sodium metabisulfate.  Using a whisk, whisk some of the wine with the mix until thin.  Pour it into the 5 gallon carboy, and then siphon the rest of the wine in.  Using  a thin stirring stick, keep the bentonite mix suspended until the carboy is full.  Then give it one final stir, attach bung and airlock, and put it away and forget about it for two weeks.  If you have the space, put the carboys on a shelf so you don't have to move them.

Now, the big day.  Siphon your wine into a clean ale pail.  Taste some of it.  Chances are it will be a dry wine.  If you think sweetening will improve it, you can stir in 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups sugar per batch.  Make sure the sugar is dissolved, and then siphon into clean bottles.


Corks vs. Caps: some straight talk

On the subject of wine bottles, studies have shown that screw top bottles work better for wine storage than cork tops.  Basically, screw caps are better for white wines and wines that will be drank young.  Screw caps keep oxygen from getting into wine, keeping it fresher for a longer time.

My take on this: when I bottle a wine, it's ready to drink that very day. Wine was meant to be enjoyed, and not stored in dusty old cellars.  Naturally, I can't drink 20 gallons of elderberry wine- which is why I'm giving it to friends and taking it to science fiction conventions.

And that's another thing: wine should also be shared.  Sure, it's nice to have a bottle of wine with some cheese and crackers while a good movie is on-- but it's a lot more fun to share it with someone, or a group of people, or someone special.

Recipe Variations:

Fresh elderberries:

For fresh elderberries, use 24 pounds.  Just crush the berries and put them in the ale pail with the other ingredients, and proceed as before.  The dried elder flowers can be eliminated, or else brewed in a tea and added to the un fermented wine.

Elderberry melomel (mead)

A fruit mead is more properly called a melomel, but since most people don't know what a melomel is, I've opted to call it a mead.  This will make a wine that your friends will ask to drink.

It's a simple substitution: for every pound of sugar in a recipe, use 1 1/4 pounds of honey.  The substitution will be:

8 pounds of sugar= 10 pounds of honey
10 pounds of sugar= 12 1/2 pounds of honey
36 pounds of sugar= 45 pounds of honey.

Processing is a bit different.  Boil a couple gallons of water.  Stir the honey in, and boil it for a few minutes, using a spoon to take off any foam that forms.  Since honey also adds liquid to the wine, take that into account when using it.



What you will need/What I used

photos are not to scale


Equipment

ale pail
6.5 gallon ale pail (need 4)

ale pail lid
ale pail lid (need 4)
airlock
airlock (need 4)
#10 stopper
#10 drilled rubber stopper (need 4)


auto siphon
auto siphon (need 1)
siphon clamp
siphon clamp (need 1)
siphon hode
siphon hose ( need 6 ft.)

carboy
5 gallon plastic carboy (nee 4)
     
                                   

stirrer
wine stirring paddle (need 1)
kettle
kettle at least 12 qt. (need 1)
sieve
       sieve (need 1) 
beer mug
  beer mug (need 1)
     
                                               

wine bottles
  wine bottles (see amounts below)
caps
wine bottle caps (see amounts below)
wine labels
wine labels (see amounts below)
double sided tape
double sided tape

Bottle amounts:
for 750ml standard size wine bottles, you would need about 100 bottles and caps
for 4 liter jugs, you would need 19 jugs and caps
for gallon jugs, you would need 20 jugs and caps
for quart sized bottles, you would need 80 bottles and caps

Please, please, PLEASE, do not bottle in plastic soda bottles.  Bottle in glass only.

Please note that due to things as spillage, and leaving behind yeast sediment, you will probably come up with less than 20 gallons.

How to reuse wine bottles:

washing soda

You need to get the old labels off.  Fill the bottles with water, and put the caps on.  Soak the bottles in a solution of 1/2 cup washing soda (available in any grocery store's laundry section) to 5 gallons of water for about half an hour.  The labels should slide off easily.

You need to label your wine

Part of the pleasure of making wine is to engage in the fantasy that you own a wine villa in France or Italy, and that your wines are acclaimed by critics.  But the fantasy won't work unless you have some good looking labels.  I used MS Paint to design my labels, downloading some appropriate clip art, and then printing them out on my inkjet printer.  I have found that the best adhesive is double sided tape.  It will hold the labels on, and when you want to remove them to reuse the bottles, you have a fairly easy time of it.

Yes, you can buy blank labels, or even pre printed wine labels.  But where is the fun in that?  Design your own labels.  Let the artist in you come out.  And besides, that just adds to the fantasy. 


Ingredients

dried elderberries
dried elderberries (need 4 pounds)
grape juice
white grape juice (need 4 gallons/8 half gallon bottles))
sugar
  sugar (need 36 pounds) 

eldefflowers
  dried elder flowers
(need 4 ounces)



montrachet yeast
 Montrachet yeast (need 2)
yeast nutrient
     yeast nutrient (need 6 TBS)
citric acid
citric acid (need 8 TBS) 
sulfite
sodium metabisulfite


Memories of My Father and WIne Making
This has how we collected fruit, including ways to find (and harvest) elderberries.