A long time ago – before the web and Google had answers for everything, I tried to make wine. With no direction, my experiment came out even worse than you might expect.
I made that wine entirely by guess and by gosh. Someone gave me a big pile of rhubarb and, not knowing what else to do with it, I decided to make wine. I cleaned up the rhubarb, cut it up into small pieces and put it into a five gallon jug. I would guess there was probably five pounds of rhubarb in there. That seemed like plenty. Then, knowing that rhubarb was really sour and sugar is needed for fermentation, I put in a couple of cups of sugar. Then I thought it over a bit and added a couple more because it was really sour. I then got a packet of baking yeast from the grocery store and poured it into the mixture and stretched a balloon over the neck of the jug as an airlock.
Then I sat back and waited for the delicious wine to appear.
Now, for those of you who know nothing about making wine, there were a couple of little tiny mistakes in my recipe. First, to make 5 gallons of wine I needed between 15 and 20 pounds of rhubarb so there I was with one third or one fourth of what I needed and thinking I had plenty.
Second, nearly every rhubarb wine recipe includes adding grape juice or grapes or some substitute for grapes. The only thing I added was my imagination.
Next, I got all carried away and put in possibly a whole pound of sugar. For five gallons of rhubarb wine I needed at least ten pounds of sugar. That wine was so dry, the glass jug started to pucker up.
And then, the yeast used to make bread is not the same as the yeast used to make wine. However, with all of the other problems, I don’t think it made a bit of difference. It actually did ferment and the balloon inflated a bit so the tiny trace of sugar that was there was now alcohol.
After recovering from the shock of my taste from the first bottle, I promptly poured all of it down the drain and threw the bottles away. They were forever corrupted. I never tried to make wine again for more than thirty years.
But this spring I noticed that I had several elderberry bushes growing around the yard that were covered with big bunches of blossoms. There should be many pounds of berries in the fall and I could make some great wine with them.
To get ready for my winemaking, I googled “How to make elderberry wine” rather than winging it again. Google brought me about 133,000 results to search through to find the perfect recipe. This time the wine will be great, I just know it will, maybe, I hope. With the whole summer to prepare, I read many recipes and compared the ingredients and processes. I gathered all the helpful tips I could find and prepared for every possible problem. I was going to do it right this time.
I eagerly watched as the blossoms began to fall and the tiny new berries began to grow. Then I began to notice that there were fewer berries in each cluster. As the weeks went by, the numbers continued to drop. By the time they ripened the big, thick clusters had turned into sparse samplings of berries with perhaps a fourth of the original number in each cluster. Instead of having twenty or thirty pounds of berries I would only have five or six. This will never do; I had to find more berries quickly.
Tomorrow – The elderberry hunt.