Elderberry wine can be a most delicious table wine. Usually it’s made as a sweet red wine, however variations to suit one’s palate range from dry to a port-type wine. For those winemakers impatiently waiting for the fall harvest of grapes, looking for the late spring Elderberry flower can provide two rewards. The first reward is, of course, that some wine makers find wine made from the Elderberry flower to be quite nice, however, it is a little off flavor to me. What I notice most is its strong bouquet. Following the practices of some European countries, Elderflower wine can be blended in small quantities to help improve the bouquet of dull wines. I have read that at one time it was illegal to make Elderflower wine in France, as some clever winemakers would take a lower quality wine and upgrade it by the addition of Elderflower wine. The second reward to looking for Elderberry flowers is, it is much easier to spot Elderberry bushes when they are covered with beautiful large white, flat-topped clusters of flowers. In late August and early September, when the bushes are covered with dark clusters of small berries, spotting them is vary difficult. I always take note of their location in the spring for early fall harvesting. Elderberries usually are found along roadside ditches, railroad right-of-ways, streams, fence rows, and edges of ponds. If you have the opportunity to find commercial Elderberries, you will find that they are much easier to process than the wild variety. The berries are 4 or 5 times larger than wild fruit.
During the first week of September, the majority of clusters will be ripe for the picking. Picking Elderberry clusters is fairly easy, although they can be in quite dense foliage and a bit of a reach. I take a small paring knife and 4 or 5 paper grocery sacks to put the clusters into. Using the knife to break the cluster’s stem off (or just using your fingers), I look for the larger, darker berries, trying to avoid reddish colored and smaller ones. You will find clusters varying from green berries to clusters that are already drying up from being over ripe and mostly picked over by the birds. The beauty of this divergence is it allows a longer harvest interval, usually lasting a week to two weeks. Never mind the mosquitoes, after all, this is Minnesota!
Processing the Elderberries consists of freezing the berries first and then stripping the fruit from the stems. I have found that rolling the berries between the fingers and the palm of the hand works fairly well. Let them fall into a large pan as you “roll” them off the stems. Don’t worry about every berry, as there are plenty more in the bag. Also, don’t pick any individual green berries that may be present in the cluster if you can avoid it. Next put the berries in a sink full of cold water to wash off the dust, debris, and bugs from the berries. Remove the berries from the water, weight them, and place in a pan or pot, with the berries just covered with water. Bring the berries to a slow boil and hold them at a slow boil until they turn a buff color. Place them in a straining bag and squeeze out the juice. It’s a bit hot on the hands straining the berries, rubber gloves may help. You’ll get about .65 quarts of juice per 1 pound of Elderberries. Pour the juice into a 5 gal carboy. To process the Golden raisins, place some into a food processor with a little water and blend till the raisins are broken up. Wet your hands and form ropes out of the raisins and feed them into the top of the carboy. Add water to the sugar; bring to a boil until the liquid (simple syrup) clears. Then allow the simple syrup to cool for a bit before adding to the carboy. Add the Citric acid (not tartaric acid), Yeast nutrient, Sulfite, and cold water to make up 5 gals of must. Leave sufficient air space to allow for early rapid fermentation. Add the Yeast when the must temperature has dropped below 110 degrees. Insert air lock and ferment on. You can top off the carboy with water after the fermentation has slowed. Allow the wine to sit for 8 to 10 months in a cool darken place, and then transfer to a clean carboy, taste and adjust, if necessary, with Citric acid, tannins, and sugar to suit your preference. Then add ¼ tsp potassium metabisulfite and sufficient water to top off the carboy. After another two to four months, taste for preference and adjust if necessary, test sulfite level and bottle. I recommend holding the wine for a year before drinking, as Elderberry is a little “rough” when first put into the bottle and requires time before it takes on a smooth, full body and will improve with age.
(Editor's note: Local wine-making supply stores do sell large tins of elderberries, if you prefer not to harvest them yourself. Also, you may wish to do the primary fermentation in an open container such as a plastic pail.)