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Naturally Fermented Elderberry Wine

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Last summer, I put mesh bags on my clusters of elderberry flowers to protect the berries from the birds. I was rewarded with a ton of elderberries.

Elderberry harvest, September 2020

I made jelly, vinegar, and tincturewith them; dehydrated some and froze the rest (the rest being 6 or 8 gallons-worth.) What to do with them? I’m not much of a wine drinker, but what the heck. I decided to try my hand at elderberry wine. 

I did a little research and found myself looking at two choices. One was the commercialized method, where I buy additives and yeast. The other was a natural ferment. Well, ya’ll know me, it was natural ferment or forget it. I know the argument against it – inconsistent results. It’s the same argument used for natural cheesemaking and natural dying. But let’s face it, even a commercially prepared batch can flop. And since I’m not trying to impress anyone, who cares if the batches vary? Makes for a more interesting outcome without having to buy anything.
I didn’t find many resources for natural fermented elderberry wine, but these two videos helped me work out a recipe:
This last video was more generic but brought it down to bare basics along with the rationale for the steps (my kind of video):
I made a one-gallon batch.
1 kg elderberries (defrosted okay), 100 gms
 unsulfured raisins, 2 L non-chlorinated water.

Both elderberry wine videos called for the raisins, although I’m not exactly sure why. One said as a source of natural yeasts, the other said for sweetness. Does anyone have a clue?

Mix the fruit and water, and mash to release the fruit juices..

Transfer to a gallon jar and cover
with clean cotton cloth. Stir daily.

The purpose of the cloth is to allow natural yeasts in the air to inoculation the fruit juice, while keeping out bugs and debris. 

After 3 or 4 days, strain the liquid from the fruit.

I used my wine (tincture) press to squeeze.

Add 1 kg sugar and stir till dissolved. Add more water.

Cover again with cotton cloth and stir daily. After 3 or 4 days
it should be producing bubbles, indicating fermentation.

The next step is to siphon again, this time into a carboy, avoiding any scum at the top or dregs on the bottom of the jug. A “real” carboy is clear glass; mine is actually a gallon glass jug that I bought organic apple cider in. Of course, I saved the jug. 

Air gaps in the siphon tube because
I had to step back to get this picture.

The jug was topped off with a little more filtered water and a water filled airlock installed.

Make-do carboy with airlock.

During fermentation gases are produced (mostly carbon dioxide, I believe). The airlock allows these to escape but keeps oxygen and contaminants from entering the jug. 

It’s stored undisturbed in a cool place for three to four months, or until fermentation is complete. Experienced people use a hydrometer to test for alcohol content. I used a more beginnerish method and just watched the bottle. When fermentation is done, it no longer produces bubbles, and there is sediment at the bottom of the jug from the spent yeast. I did test it with my hydrometer because I was curious about it. The alcohol content is about 5%. 
The bottles must be sterilized to avoid contaminants which produce off flavors. I didn’t want to use chemical cleaners, so I put the bottles into a cold oven, heated to about 225°F (110°C) for 15 to 20 minutes.

Bottles sterilizing in the oven.

Then the oven is turned off and the bottles are allowed to cool completely. The wine is siphoned from the carboy into the bottles.

Bottling is easier with two people.

The bottled wine is stored in a cool, dark place, where the final product is said to improve with age. We had a partial bottle leftover, which of course we sampled! I’ve already mentioned that I’m nowhere near a wine connoisseur, but I can tell you that it’s the best wine I’ve ever tasted.

Something for special occasions.

I immediately started on a second batch! And I can see a little experimentation in my future. 


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