Elderberries are one of the UK best fruits for making wine. Often referred to as the “Englishman’s grape” elderberry wine is a rich, full bodied wine and there is usually a plentiful supply of the fruit throughout much of the UK you can pick for free out of the hedgerows.
I know many enjoy making wine from elderflowers and even I have a batch made from this year. Elderberry wine, however, is in my opinion far superior. Despite the obvious difference in colour with elderberry making a deep red wine, elderberries do not require much work to go from grape to glass.
Elderberries have many of the qualities that grapes have that make them so well suited to wine making. In fact, elderberries have often been added to grape wines by commercial wineries to boost tannin and colour. The only difference between wine grapes and elderberries is that elderberries require a sugar addition at the sugar content of elderberries is around 7%.
Elderberries also possess some acids to balance the finished wine. As in many country wines, an addition of mixed acid is required or the finished wine or it will be flat or flabby tasting. Elderberries are high in citric, malic and fumaric acids.
Foraging For Elderberries
As far as I’m aware there isn’t a readily available supply of fresh elderberries available to buy. Although you can buy dried elderberries which are used for making wine, you will want fresh elderberries to make this wine.
The great thing about elderberries is they are abundant throughout the UK and they are very easy to harvest and prepare for wine making.
Elderberries are small dark purple to black coloured berries, they hang in umbrella shaped clusters and are ripe around August to October.
It goes without saying that if you are unsure of the identification you should not pick the berries. Take a good identification guide with you when you are looking for the elderberries to ensure you are picking the correct thing.
The easiest way to pick elderberries is to take a pair of scissors and snip each cluster of berries at the base of the stem. You should be able to quickly harvest a fair amount and when you get them back home separate the berries from the stems with a fork.
Preparing Your Elderberries For Making Wine
Once you get the elderberries back home after picking you will want to remove the berries from the stems, the stems are slightly toxic so this is an important step.
The easiest way to remove the elderberries from the stems is by combing them with a fork. Gently comb the berries away from the stems a few at a time into a bowl and repeat for the whole harvest.
Once you have the berries de-stemmed it is time to clean them. Fill a large enough bowl to accommodate the berries with cold water and add the elderberries. The ripe and mature berries will sink to the bottom. Any green, damaged berries will float as will any leaves and bugs. Remove the bad berries and debris with a sieve and drain the well-cleaned elderberries.
After cleaning, if you are not planning to make wine straight away you can freeze the elderberries in a freezer bag which gives you the flexibility to make the wine at any point you choose.
What You’ll Need To Make Elderberry Wine – Makes 1 gallon / 4.5 litres
Elderberry Wine Ingredients
- 1.2kg Elderberries
- 4.5 litres Water
- 1.1kg Sugar
- 2 tsp Acid Blend (if you are using tart apples use less acid)
- 1 tsp Yeast Nutrient
- 1/2 tsp Pectic Enzyme
- 1 Campden Tablet
- 1 sachet of Yeast (we recommend Lalvin RC 212)
Elderberry Wine Method
1. Heat the water in a pan on the stove, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Bring to the boil for a minute and then turn off the heat.
2. Take the prepared elderberries and place them in the straining bag inside the sanitised fermenting bucket. Use a potato masher to thoroughly crush the berries. It should be noted they will stain so try not to get any on your clothes. Your straining bag will never be the same colour after making elderberry wine!
3. Pour the boiling water over the crushed elderberries and give them a good stir. Allow to cool for a few hours and then add the yeast nutrient, acid blend and the crushed Campden tablet. Mix thoroughly, cover and fit the airlock and wait for at least 12 hours.
4. After 12 hours add the pectic enzyme mix thoroughly and wait for a further 24 hours.
5. After 24 hours add the yeast onto the surface of the must, there is no need to stir. Cover and fit the airlock and patiently wait for fermentation to begin.
6. Stir the wine daily for the first week of fermentation, after 2 weeks lift out the straining bag and allow the wine to drain from the berries. Avoid squeezing the bag.
7. Leave the wine to settle for a day and then syphon the wine into a demijohn. You may check the gravity now if you have a hydrometer. The wine should be close to, if not fully fermented out.
8. Allow the wine to condition in the demijohn for at least 3 – 4 months, racking when any sediment builds up. After conditioning for at least 3 – 4 months you should sample the wine. You may want to back sweeten the wine if you prefer a sweeter taste if so follow this guide before bottling. If not rack straight to bottles and try to keep hold of them for as long as possible.
Elderberry wine ages very well and will continually evolve so try and hold onto a few bottles for a year or more. You will be pleasantly surprised at how good an elderberry wine can get.