I was never a huge fan of wine, the whole dry makes your mouth pucker experience wasn’t for me. Give me juice with alcohol content and I’m good. Last summer, we had a person decide to trespass on the old logging road that cuts across the back side of our property. Said person got his vehicle stuck in the limb dump about 30 yards into the logging road. Keep in mind, these limbs have been rotting since approximately 2014, and the soft layer of organic material underneath the limbs made getting stuck inevitable.
After the tow truck and the sheriffs deputy removed the trespasser and his vehicle, we got to work putting in wooden posts and a chain with no trespassing signs. Apparently the fact that it’s not your property is not a valid reason not to go off-roading in this part of the country. During the setting of the posts, I noticed a LOT of wild blackberry bushes. It was so overgrown I could only access a small percentage of the thousands present and as the berries were still green on the vine, I had to wait a while for harvest, but boy was it worth the wait! We found several patches across the property, and its almost a pat routine now where we pick. Blackberries love disturbed, low quality soil, which means were sitting on a berry gold mine.
My baby brother helped us a lot that first summer picking berries, all for the low price of a blackberry cobbler. We picked enough over the summer to run two batches of blackberry wine, and a few dozen pints of jam; plus the cobbler payments. I enjoyed the wine all of last fall and most of the winter until I realized I needed to start rationing myself until the berries started coming back in.
I am happy to report that we now have three batches of wine fermenting and I’ve for two or three bottles left over from last summer still. I worked most of the afternoon yesterday to make a huge mess in the kitchen with great success. As of Sunday morning, there were over 6 gallons of wild blackberries in the freezer and in the spirit of avoiding the 90% humidity outside, we started three separate batches.
The first step to making any wine is to kill all the bacteria on the fruit. Because what is yeast but tame bacteria, and even that is unpredictable at times. You can either chemically or biologically sterilize the fruit, and since I’m cheap and in theory hate chemicals, we went the biological route this year. Wash and dry the fruit and spread it on a pan and pop in the freezer until solid, then transfer to a gallon bag for holding. Since a batch of wine takes 4-6 lbs of fruit and we get about 3/4 gallons per picking day, we have to save up quite a bit of fruit. For reference, an average gallon of our blackberries weighs a little less than 4 lbs. We finally had enough hoarded away in deep freeze, so yesterday we pulled out about 16 lbs and got to work.
Based on last year’s experience, what I’ve learned is that wine making is all about sterilization and patience. We had one batch re-ferment and get fizzy (super tasty but sporty in that it is akin to living with a ticking time bomb as the bottles can supposedly explode whenever they feel like it) and one batch soured somewhere along the way and tasted like vinegar; and not even good vinegar. All bottles had some particulates settle out as well. According to my research, these issues could’ve been solved by better sterilization and more waiting in the ferment stage. Stay tuned.
Ok, so once thawed, we placed the berries in three sterile buckets and crushed by hand. Except they were not quite thawed and I may lose a finger to frostbite. Eventually the berries DID thaw and were crushed. I looked into mechanically juicing the berries with a meat grinder or food mill, but unless you have a fruit juicer, you can get too much tannin from the seeds in your juice must and the wine will be super dry. Ick
Once the berries have sat for awhile and mixed with sterile water, its time to add sugar water and yeast. Spoiler alert, I am really bad at math and doubling, not to mention tripling, recipes is a struggle for me. Ask any of my wedding house guests about their pancakes the day after the reception… I tend to either add one ingredient in singular amounts or six times the amount. My wonderful husband was cross checking math for me all day and confirming that two cups is in fact one pint and that three times three is nine.
My favorite part is mixing the yeast up to start activating. It smells like baking bread with zero percent of the work and it bubbles. Who doesn’t like bubbles.
Once the yeast has activated, in it goes to the berry mixture and everything gets stirred and capped. PLEASE do not cap anything in this process with a solid lid and no way to vent. Or if you do, send pictures of the aftermath. We store the mix in the pantry at least for the initial process, and it smells SO good in there. If you care about such matters, now is the time to take an initial hydrometer reading as well. Assuming I can read the hydrometer right (again, the math thing), then the sample I pulled has a potential alcohol content of 10ish percent.
Here is the day one recipe instructions. Honestly, the first year I went straight off of wikihow ( https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Blackberry-Wine ) and googled the best blackberry wine yeast. My local Alternative Beverage store employees have also been exceedingly helpful. After the first two batches turned out well, I typed up the recipe and added in my thoughts. Google is a wonderful thing. As you can see, it is an all day affair, mostly of waiting. I wash most of my pots and containers with a campden solution which I equate to the kitchen version of alconox and/or soap and water. There was a lot of washing and trying to keep things sterile, which, when you are a taste testing cook, is hard to accomplish.
Complete Ingredient List
- 4 ½ – 6 lbs ripe fruit
- 2 ½ lbs sugar
- 7 pints of water
- 1 package of yeast (Red wine yeast recommended)
- 1. Wash berries with 1 gallon of water and one Campden tablet. Rinse and allow to dry 12 hours prior to processing. Alternatively, freeze berries first. This will kill any unwanted bacteria.
- 2. Crush berries by hand in a sterile plastic bucket. Pour in 2 pints of cooled distilled water and mix well. Leave mixture for two hours.
- 3. Boil one third of the sugar with 3 pints water for one minute. Allow syrup to cool.
- 4. Add yeast to 4 oz of warm (not boiling) water and stand for 10 minutes.
- 5. Pour the cooled syrup into the berries. Add the yeast. Make sure the mixture has properly cooled, as a hot temperature will kill the yeast.
- 6.Cover the bucket with a clean cloth and leave in a warm place for 7 days.
Now, we wait. Perhaps I should take this seven days of waiting to write a thank you letter to my trespasser who started it all.
Since Toby’s love affair with all things blackberry is well established in our house, it goes without saying that there was some significant bonding time in the kitchen.