Over the last couple of weeks, we have been experimenting with some non-grape based wines. We have always made wines from fruits other than grapes – actually that is how we got started. Our first wines were blackberry, strawberry, cherry and peach. But then we concentrated on learning to grow grapes and making grape wine. We do blend our grape wines with fruit wines for certain blends, for example, our Bow and Arrow is a blend of Chambourcin and Blackberry wine, and our Summer Blend is a blend of Vidal Blanc and Apple wine. But these current experimental batches are new to us.
During the first weeks of April, we picked the yellow petals off dandelions. The recipes we found varied from 2 cups per gallon of water to 1 gallon of petals per gallon of water, and every ratio in between. We opted for a 1:2 ration, so 8 cups of dandelion petals per gallon of water. After about three weeks, we had picked 56 cups of petals – enough for a seven gallon trial batch! We froze the petals right after picking, in small freezer bags marked with the number of cups.
As with any of the blossom wines, you basically make a strong “tea”, to extract the flavors and aromas of the flowers. So we used our large pressure canners to bring about 8 gallons of water to a full boil. We did not have a large enough container to make this”tea” in, so we used two fermentation buckets from our home-winemaking days. We did this initial step in our kitchen, not the winery, since we needed a stove. Each bucket had a finely woven fermentation bag with the 28 cups of pedals, which we covered with 3.5 gallons of boiling water. We then added the required amount of sugar – which brought the total volume up another half gallon – and let the mixture steep. We did measure Brix, pH and TA and made some slight adjustments.
It smelled very pleasant, a bit like honey – but unlike anything we had ever smelled before. Once the temperature cooled down to lukewarm, we added chopped yellow raisins, tartaric acid, some grape tannin, yeast nutrient etc. to the fermentation bag with the petals, and left this sit for a day, before pitching yeast. We had a hard time getting the fermentation started, and it took three tries of different yeast strains, but it finally started a pretty rigorous fermentation. We are waiting for it to complete, before straining the wine into carboys, and then start the racking regiment. Seven gallons is not very much wine, considering that one gallon roughly fills 5 standard bottles – or ten 350 ml bottles.
Last fall, we bought a lot of neck pumpkins, from which we removed the rind, seeds and all stringy matter. We cut the pumpkin “meat” into cubes and froze them. Earlier this month, we thawed them out and weighed them – we had 121 lbs. We added the required amount of water, sugar, acid, tannin etc – as well as a small spice bag. There were no precise recipes that we could find, so we made our own best guess. We used two whole nutmegs and 14 allspice berries, which we put in a ziploc bag and smashed slightly with a hammer into course chunks. We poured this into the spice bag and added 14 smallish cinnamon sticks, as well as chopped raisins. Then we pitched the yeast, and the fermentation started on schedule. This batch is fermenting in the winery, which is still rather cool, so the fermentation is not too violent, but rather progressing at a nice pace. We hope to rack this off on Memorial Day weekend – likely into 15 gallon demi-johns. This should make about 35 gallons.
We just bottled 20 gallons of Elderberry wine in small, 350 ml bottles. It took us two growing seasons to pick enough elderberries from our bushes, which we froze in gallon bags. Last August, we thawed them out and mixed them with water, sugar and acid to get the correct balance for adding yeast and making wine. As far as an experiment goes, this one has taken the longest so far! The wine fermented without any issues, and we followed the same process as we do for all our wines, in regards to testing, racking and aging. This prurplish red fruit wine has a very unique taste – and we look forward to sharing it. The bottles still need to rest a bit and they need to be labeled.
We also have several bags of frozen elderberry blossoms that we picked last year, and we hope to get a lot more this year. Elderberry blossoms make a beautiful white wine – we can’t wait to try it!