by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
Wild blackberries are among the most productive and versatile fruiting plants in the wild. The most difficult thing about gathering blackberries is deciding what to do with all those dark luscious fruits once you get them home. Luckily, blackberries lend themselves to all kinds of luscious concoctions, not all of which have to be jams and pies. In fact, once the main harvest is neatly tucked into the freezer, the last pick is always reserved for makin’ Wild Blackberry Wine! You might not believe it, but making wine is a pretty straightforward affair. How easy or difficulty it is depends completely on you and your perception of what “good wine” is. We’re self-avowed hillbillies, so of course, we don’t need a whole lot of fancy anything. Plus, with all the chores around our place during blackberry season, we need to keep everything simple.
To make roughly 5 gallons of blackberry wine, we start by crushing 2-3 gallons of blackberries in a 5-gallon food-grade bucket. To this we add one packet of regular bread yeast (“professional” winemaker’s: gasp here), 4-8 lbs. of white refined sugar and enough water to fill the container to within 8” of the rim.
The mouth of the container is then covered with the original bucket lid, or a double layer of heavy-duty plastic wrap held down around the rim by a bungee cord or similar contrivance. The key here is to keep wild yeasts from finding their way into the fermentation vessel while still allowing the contents to “breath”. It’s not a good idea to try to seal fermenting fruit in an air-tight container because as the fruit ferments, gasses form. A tightly sealed vessel will eventually explode.
Place the fermentation vessel in a warm, dark place. Gently stir the contents with a clean, stainless steel or plastic utensil once a day for the first few days. Avoid using wooden spoons, they often harbor bacteria. You will know when fermentation begins as the brew will bubble. At first, this action may be quite exciting, so I like to keep the bucket set inside a big plastic tub to catch any accidental spills and I check in on the brew every day. Gradually, the bubbling will become slower and slower until it’s barely perceptible.
Within two to three weeks your wine should be ready to be racked off into secondary fermentation vessel known as a carboy. You can either use a clean 5-gallon bucket or a 5 gallon food-grade water jug. We like to use the water jugs, but carboys can be any type of vessel, including recycled and sterilized wine bottles (which you do not want to seal up just yet!)
Use a clear piece of 1/2” tubing to siphon the liquid away from the fruit and into your carboy. What you do with the bit of goodness in the bottom of the first fermentation vessel is completely up to you, but be forewarned – it’s very potent stuff! Again, you will need to cover the carboy. But keep in mind that fermentation is still occurring, even if you can’t see it with your eyes. And although the fermentation processes are toned down in this second phase, the yeast is still consuming sugar and producing gasses and tightly sealed vessels could still explode. Therefore, if bottles are used, cap them with new cork stoppers, small balloons, or plastic wrap. Never use screw on caps!
Regardless of the vessel you use, once the fruit has been racked into carboys, the liquid in the new containers should be topped off with just enough water to reach the top of the container. And if the wine isn’t sweet enough, a little bit of sugar can be added.
Unlike the first fermentation, the second fermentation is often much less riotous than the first, and at times the wine appears to be doing nothing at all. Yet, after several days you will probably be able to smell the alcohol content rising. This second fermentation phase can take one to several months in a cool dark place to complete. We (really) like to taste the wine regularly and when it becomes just a little more than palatable, we do the final rack into sterilized recycled wine bottles.
Let me assure you that the home brewer not using brewing instruments should always use corks to seal their bottles. A cork will usually pop out before a glass bottle will break, which can save you a a big messy loss.
If we somehow manage not to drink the wine right away, we allow the wine to age for several months to several years to develop deeper, more complex flavors. Being just a tad impatient, we have been known to drink the first racked bottle straight up, enjoying its breathy, tart flavor as you might a liqueur.
I hope you get around to trying your hand at brewing up some of your own Wild Blackberry Wine this year. Cheers!
If you missed Wild Blackberries and Wine Part I, click the link and check it out!
© 2014 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.