About this recipe:I enjoy making natural wines from fruit in the garden or hedgerow, using the wild yeasts present on the fruit. This wine is ideal for making from late May to early June, when rhubarb is at its best and elderflower is in bloom. The elderflower gives delicate fragrance to the wine and the root ginger adds complexity to the flavour. No sulphites or preservatives of any kind such as Camden tablets or sorbate are added to any of my wines.
I gallon of cold water(= 8 imperial pints = 160 fluid oz = 4.54L)
3lb (1.36Kg) of white granulated sugar
50g ginger root sliced
Florets from 10 freshly picked elderflowers
2 tablespoons of a prepared culture of dried active baker's yeast, according to instructions on the tin
Needed: 1 gallon glass demijohn and 2 gallon fermentation bin, both fitted with an airlock
Optional: A hydrometer to check the original and final gravity of the wine.
Needed: Syphon tube to draw wine out of the fermentation bin and demijohn
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Put the chopped rhubarb into the 2 gallon sterilised fermentation bin. Add the sliced ginger root and the sugar over the top of the fruit. Leave overnight to draw out the juice and flavour from the rhubarb and ginger. Next morning, stir the syrupy mixture and add the gallon of cold water. Stir well with a long spoon until all the sugar is dissolved.
At this stage, if you wish, take a sample of the liquid in the bin to check the original gravity(OG) with the hydrometer. It is intended to be about 1.078-1.080, which will give a 12% alcohol dry still wine. If you prefer medium or sweet wines, or sparkling wines, see notes at the end.
For most of my wines I add no yeast and rely on the natural wild yeasts on the fruit from my garden or hedgerow. In theory, this wine should ferment from natural wild yeasts clinging to fresh-picked rhubarb and elderflower. However, being a stem vegetable combined with flowerheads rather than a fruit, I am not 100% confident that there will be adequate yeast present.....it could take up to week to get fermenting properly. To avoid panic, I suggest you add the 2 tablespoons of prepared baker's yeast to start it off, or a wine yeast of your choice. After adding the yeast, stir well. Now add the elderflower florets and gently stir into the mixture. Any wild yeasts present will start to kick in after a few days.
Fix the airtight lid to the fermentation bin with the bubbler airlock inserted into the hole in the lid. These bins + lids + airlocks are available online from most homebrew shops and are so effective in keeping the wine protected from oxidation and contamination while it ferments. Leave the bin to ferment at room temperature and check that it is bubbling each day to release carbon dioxide. After a week or 10 days, the bubbles will slow down and almost stop. The wine can be left almost indefinitely at this point, thanks to the airlock lid. Up to a month will improve flavour extraction.
When you are ready to go to the next stage(no hurry!) syphon off the wine into the sterilised demijohn. 1 gallon of water was originally added to the fruit (rather than making up to 1 gallon) to ensure you get enough liquid to fill the demijohn without having to add more water. After syphoning you might need to drain the remaining fruit through muslin to get enough for the whole gallon. Let it free drain and don't squeeze the fruit as it can cause pectins to be released which cause cloudiness.
With the level of wine at the shoulders of the demijohn, you can now optionally take a sample of the wine to check the final gravity(FG) on the hydrometer. It should be about 0.990 from experience, if the wine is fully fermented and no extra sugar has been added other than the 3lb in the beginning + any other to adjust OG. There is a formula to give you the alcohol content of the wine: Alcohol % = (FG - OG)/7.36 x 1000. So 1.080-0.990 = 0.09. 0.09/7.36 x 1000 = 12.2%. Best not to rely on the potential % alcohol shown on the hydrometer, which does not allow for residual sugar in the wine, some of which is present in all wines. The potential alcohol is particularly innaccurate for beer making due to all the unfermentable carbohydrates in beer.
Fix the bung and airlock to the demijohn and leave to settle and clear in a dark cupboard, basement or loft for at least 6 months, though it will be clearer after 1 year. I have found there is no need to rack off into another demijohn. There are no off-tastes from dead yeast cells that I have noticed. The wine is effectively "sur lie"(left on the lees) like some muscadet wines from France, and all the fresher for it. You can leave the wine in the demijohn with airlock almost indefinitely in the cool and dark. Don't forget to top up the water in the airlock though. You could bottle after 6 months but I prefer to drink the wines in date sequence and leave the bottling until I am ready to start drinking that particular wine. It requires plenty of demijohns but it saves faffing around labelling loads of bottles and finding somewhere to store them all.
SWEET WINES: Not a good idea to add more sugar to get a sweet wine....the sugar will keep fermenting up to around 15% alcohol and you will end up with a strong sweet sherry-like wine which is not everyone's favourite. You could add chemicals like sulphites(= Camden tablets) to kill off the yeasts, and then add some sugar. The big winemakers often add extra sweet grape juice after filtering out the yeasts with specialised equipment. I suggest you add a teaspoon or two of non-fermenting sweetener to the bottles, like glycerol-type syrups. You can buy them on the internet.
SPARKLING WINES: When bottling from the demijohn, use swing-top bottles, which are available in homebrew shops empty, or with beer included in supermarkets for a cheaper price(no brainer!). Add half to 3/4 of a teaspoon of white sugar and a few dried active yeast granules(on the tip of a teaspoon) to each bottle....seal the bottles, shake well and leave to ferment for a month to develop the sparkling fizz and to clear. Chill the wines before serving. You will need to pour out carefully, leaving about 1cm in the bottom of the bottle to avoid the sediment clouding the wine.