Making Elderberry Wine

First - Getting the Juice Out of the Elderberries:

After we harvest our elderberries we usually freeze them in 1 gallon ziplock freezer bags, 1 bag holds about 5-5.5 pounds of elderberries. This allows us to store up enough fruit to make a big batch of wine later and allows us to concentrate on picking berries at the peak of ripeness. Freezing also makes it easier to get the juice out of the berries. Before we make our wine, we sort through the frozen berries to pick out any green berries that accidentally got included, sawfly caterpillars, spiders, shield bugs and stink bugs, especially the stink bugs. The berries can be juiced in several ways, more body and tannins are released if the skins are included in the primary fermentation.

1) The simplest way is to crush the berries in a bucket with your hands, a clean wine bottle or some other smusher, but dont grind up the seeds. Then the crushed berries are added to the primary fermentor, either dumped straight in or put into a nylon fermentation bag. Using a fermentation bag to contain the berries makes it easier to remove the seeds and skins later, but the bag isn't required. The seeds and skins can be strained out when transferring to the secondary fermentor. The berries can also be pressed to get just the juice.

2) Another method is to simmer the berries in water which also seems to get rid of some of the green gunk that sometimes shows up when making elderberry wine. Its also easy to dissolve the sugar into the simmering berries. The simmered berries can then either be strained and just the juice used or the juice and skins fermented together. This method is also supposed to "fix" the color of the elderberries so that the red color lasts longer in the bottle.

3) A third method is to steam the berries using a steam juicer, the skins can then be discarded or included in the primary fermentation. The sugar can be easily dissolved in the hot steamed juice.

4) Dried elderberries can also be used, reconstituted in warm water and placed in a fermentation bag into the primary.

Second - Adjusting the Must:

1) Potasium Metabisuphite (KMeta): When using raw berries and frozen raw berries we add KMeta (1/4 tsp/5 gal must) to inhibit wild yeast and bacteria. When using simmered berries, or steam juiced berries the KMeta is optional for killing wild yeast and bacteria as the heating has killed most of them. KMeta has other actions that aid in the preservation of color and protection from oxidation and isn't limited to just killing off wild yeasts.

2) Acidity: We aim for about 0.6% Titratable Acidity (TA) in the primary fermentation and adjust with acid blend to increase the %TA. Our WV Wineyard cultivated and irrigated elderberries have been low in TA. We froze and then thawed and crushed the elderberries to measured the TA using fresh 0.1N Sodium Hydroxide. Our Elderberry must in 2006 measured only 0.2 %TA for 15 pounds of fruit in 5 gallons of must. The 2007 must using raw crushed elderberries, 17 lb / 6 gal, was similar at .225%. Simmered elderries, 17 lb/5 gal, with the skins strained out before fermentation, measured only 0.038% TA. The steamed juiced must, 17 lb/5 gal, without skins, also measured .038% TA. We also made a 100% steamed elderberry must, 50 lb/ 5 gal and measured the %TA at 0.255. In contrast to published recipies for wild elderberries, our cultivated berries are rather low in acid so its important to measure the TA yourself rather than simply follow a recipie that may not take into account your location, drought conditions or cultivar variety.

3) Specific Gravity: We adjust the specific gravity based on the style of wine we are making. We start most of our elderberries at 1.095 or higher and sometimes keep feeding the yeast with sugar syrup (2 parts sugar boiled in 1 part water) to raise the gravity and produce more alchohol. If too much sugar is added the wine can become to "Hot" and some of the fruitiness of the elderberries will be lost and there is also the risk of a stuck fermentation that would yield a wine that is too sweet. Our taste in the finished wine is generally off dry, somewhere around a specific gravity of 1.005-1.010. Since elderberry wine has high tannin levels it can also age well, so you can also make a heavy bodied wine with lots of fruit and alchohol and age it 10 years easily.

4) Tannin: We dont need to add tannin as the elderberries are already high in tannin.

5) Nutrients: We add diammonium phosphate (DAP) nutrient for nitrogen and Superferment or Superfood to give make up for any nutrients missing in the must that the yeast need to grow. These are added as directed by the manufacturer and either added all at once to the must before fermentation starts or staggered, adding half before fermentation and half a day or two later as the yeast have started to grow well.

6) Oak: Elderberry wine takes oak very well. We are currently experimenting with Oakmor in the primary and then either Oakmor, chips or staves in the secondary carboys.

7) Pectinase: Even though elderberries are low in pectin we add pectinase after the must has cooled to ensure we dont have a pectin haze when clearing. Modern pectinases are added to grapes at crushing along with KMeta so there is no reason to wait in added pectinase to the must after KMeta.

Third - Primary Fermentation:

1) The Yeast Variety Trial 2006: Previous to 2006 we have used only Pasteur Red yeast on our Elderberry wines. In 2006 we had a Yeast trial, we compared Red Star Pasteur Red to Lalvin EC-1118 and K1V-116. All three yeasts produced a good tasting wine 6 months later, the real taste test will be in the summer of 2008. But so far, in these young wines, the K1V-116 was favored the best, followed by the EC-1118 and the Pasteur Red. By 2009 all of the wines made from each yeast were good and not clear winner could be choosen.

2) Adding the Yeast: We generally make a yeast starter by dissolving 2 TBSP table sugar in 2 cups of hot water, adding 1 tsp nutrient and 1/4 tsp citric acid and then adding an entire packet of yeast and allow this to grow several hours to overnight. We then gently pour the starter into the must so that it stays near the surface where there is more oxygen. We also sometimes just sprinkle the yeast on top without stirring it in with great results.

3) The Primary Fermentation: We lightly cover the primary bucket with a loose fitting lid, or an extra large set of panty hose, to let the CO2 and heat escape. Twice a day we stir the must, and if using a fermentation bag, and push and roll it into the bottom of the bucket and give it a little squeeze. After the must reaches about 1.020 or lower we either strain the berries out and transfer to the secondary fermentor, or if using a fermentation bag, we GENTLY wring the bag of berries out and transfer the wine into a secondary carboy and attach an airlock. You can also make a gallon of seconds wine from the remains of the berries used in the primary fermentation to use as a topper, adjusting the must to SG of 1.085, adding some acid blend and nutrient and allow to ferment as normal.

Fourth - Racking and Topping:

When the wine stops bubbling through the air lock, and the Specific Gravity is 1.000 - 0.990, and the yeast has started to settle to the bottom of the carboy, we rack off into another carboy, add Potassium Metabisulphite, and put on an airlock again. We then wait a couple months for more stuff to settle out and rack again, and again if we have too, until no sediment forms. Each time we rack we loose a little wine and top off with a "seconds" wine, finished elderberry or similar wine or, sometimes to add a little spice, we top off with a ginger wine. If we dont have anything else we make a topper by diluting Everclear wth tap water to 15% alchohol, add 4 tsp acid blend/gallon so that the topper doesnt dilute the alchohol or acid levels. But its much better to top off with a like wine if you can.

Fifth - Degassing and Fining:

We use a small vacuum pump to degass our wines in the carboys, adding boiling stones to make the pump more effective. If the wine is not cleared completely we may also choose to fine the wine to make it clearer. We have used several fining agents such as Super Kleer and Sparkaloid. When we use Sparkaloid we rack the wine and then stir 1 - 1.5 grams/gal of Sparkloid Hot Mix into water (~1/4 cup water/gal of wine or 1 cup/5 gal) in a ceramic coffee mug. We then microwave about 1 min, stir again, microwave again until it boils, stir again, microwave again until just boiling and finally give a really good stir. This hot mix is dumped right into the carboy on top of the wine and stirred in well. We let the Sparkaloid settle out for about a week or more before racking off into a bottling bucket to bottle.

Finally - Bottling and Aging:

When the wine is ready to bottle we transfer it to a bottling bucket, add some more Potassium Metabisulphite and, if sweetening, add Sorbate and adjust the Specific Gravity to our taste, which is just a little off dry but not too sweet. We cork the bottles and let them stay upright for a day to relieve excess pressure from corking and then put them on the rack to age while we try to forget about them and not go down and sneak a taste before they are ready, but at least a month before the first bottle gets opened. Generally we pick in September and October and bottle the next summer before the next crop comes in. Elderberry is "supposed" to take ages to be drinkable but not necessarily, some of ours are good at 6 months old, they do get better with age. Though we have not made elderberry wine from fresh berries long enough to have any significant age on them, we did make a Vitners that was still good after 9 years so I have high hopes for aging our fresh berry wines.

Some Special Notes on Making Elderberry Wine. Tips we have learned on the Forum and from other winemakers.

Cleaning the Green Goo: A Nonpolar Nightmare

We dont get too excited about a few little stems in our berries, it would just take forever to get every single one of them. Do make sure to get out any green berries as unripe berries are said to cause nausea. A green goo or grunge, made of some nonpolar products from the elderberry plant, especially high in the green berries and possibly stems, can build up on the sides of the primary. Nonpolar substances are not water soluble and are resistant to cleaning by soap and almost anything else. In the April 2003 edition of Wine Maker magazine, in the Readers Tip: Elderberry Ooze, Dave Moyer suggested to use canola oil to remove the green goo. Also, one of the worlds leading experts in fruit winemaking, Mr. Jack Keller ( has determined that simple vegetable oil will dissolve the grunge, and then the vegetable oil can we washed off with dish soap to clean the primary. We used vegetable oil to clean the green elderberry gunk from our primary and can testify that it works very well.

Fermenting in Plastic Food Grade Bags.

We have also experimented with plastic food grade bags lining the primary and these have worked well for barrels but for just a five gallon primary are too much trouble. The nice thing about the bags is after you transfer the wine out of the primary you just throw the bag away. Barrel bags from

Tannin Levels

So far we have not had to fine out high tannin levels, but if we needed to do that Gelatin and Egg Whites have been suggested by numerous people to lower the tannin levels. Potassium Caseinate, made from milk proteins, has also been suggested to remove tannins from elderberry wine.

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