Chokecherry Wine - My First Attempt

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ricardo maya

Ricardo Allan Mair
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Chokecherry Wine - My First Attempt

Those of us who live in “Chokecherry Country” know that we have a great thing going with these wonderful little spheres of purplish-black love, known scientifically as Prunus virginiana. Chokecherries are an integral part of the culture and the people who live with them, from the Native American tribes who gathered and used them hundreds (and probably thousands) of years ago, to the pioneers and settlers who arrived to tame the land and discovered an irresistible treat waiting for them when they arrived.

All my life, I’ve enjoyed chokecherries, mostly in the form of syrup and jelly, but occasionally in a few other creative ways. Late last year, I even brewed a chokecherry-wheat ale that came out really well, and I intend to brew it again later this year. But in spite of the fact that I have lived in Montana and the Dakotas all of my life, one of the most popular ways to experience the chokecherry is one that I had never tried before - in wine.

Last year, I set out to remedy that situation when I picked several pounds of chokecherries in the mountains south of home with my youngest son. It was one of those late-summer mornings that exist to let you know that autumn is approaching; cool, foggy and with occasional drizzles of light rain. The aroma of wet leaves and grass was heavy in the air, and in many ways, it was nearly a perfect time to be where I was and doing what I was doing. Interestingly, the chokecherries proved to be difficult to find last year, due to a late-spring frost; however, after much searching outside of our usual areas, we did find a couple of nice groves that contained a wonderful harvest of plump, ripe chokecherries. I made some of them into syrup, and I used a small portion for the aforementioned chokecherry-wheat ale that I brewed...and the rest eventually became my first attempt at chokecherry wine.

The Wonderful, Thoughtful and Beautiful Mrs. Tas, knowing my desire to learn about making wine, bought this 1-gallon kit for my last birthday:

Master Vintner Premium Wine Kits

What I especially like about this kit is that it simply contains the equipment and necessary additives for making wine; the beauty of it is that you get to supply all of your own fruit for making it, and it can be whatever you want. You can get it at the market, grow it in your garden...or you can gather what Nature provides. The possibilities are endless, and I am grateful to her for choosing this option, because I feel that it would be much more rewarding to go this route, than to make a “normal” wine using pre-packaged ingredients from a factory somewhere. This type of venture appeals to me, a descendant of immigrants, farmers, gardeners and gatherers going all the way back through their migrations to their origins; Montana, North Dakota, Ukraine, The Black Forest Region of Germany, and finally to 18th Century Alsace - and before that, as well.

There are probably hundreds of different recipes for chokecherry wine out there on hand-written notecards and in kitchen cupboards all across the northern United States and Southern Canada, often written with vague, generalised instructions using archaic terminology or esoteric-sounding directives such as “soak chokecherries in water until a white film grows over them, then add bread yeast.” There are also quite a few recipes to be found on the internet; however, it seemed to me that many of those recipes will contain blends with other fruits or wines, or that they call for the wind to be infused with additives, adjuncts and other ingredients that are - in my opinion - distractions from the true character of the chokecherry. In most cases, the recipes that I found are for very large batches of wine, calling for 50 or 60 pounds of chokecherries at a time and methods that could almost be on an industrial scale. Even most of the smaller recipes were for a minimum of 20 gallons of wine, an amount that would take me decades to consume.

For my own requirements, a small, low-maintenance, home-based batch that would be typical of any rural farmhouse wine, there were a few recipes out there; all were similar, but there were differences in the details that were enough to be a bit confusing for someone who has never made “real” wine before. Luckily, I found salvation in the form of a friendly and helpful woman on a home-brewing forum that I am a member of who goes by the moniker of “Yooper.” Being from the Midwest, she has been making chokecherry wine for many years; consequently, she is very well-versed on the fundamentals of the process, the pitfalls and the dozens of other little things that will really help someone who is starting out. Thanks to her experience and mentorship, I was able to bring some order to the chaos and finally get this project started after several years of wandering around aimlessly in the wilderness. I am very grateful to her for all of her patient and valuable help with this project!

Here is her recipe, scaled down to 1 gallon:



Due to several factors, including my father’s recollections from watching his own father make chokecherry wine years ago, my attempt was slightly different; however, It seems that the essentials should be close enough to get things started so that I can learn what I am doing and why I am doing it. My goal was for a slightly- (but not overly-) sweet, fruity wine that has plenty of rich, chokecherry flavour. Once I am able to see the results of this batch, I will be able to adjust toward that end, if necessary.

Here’s how my first batch of wine came together (deviations from Yooper’s original recipe are in parenthesis, for comparison):



I began my chokecherry wine on Saturday, February 27th, 2016. Since beginning this project, I have been trying to follow the basic procedure outlined in Yooper’s instructions, but there have been a couple of minor differences. With my work and home schedule, I’ve only been able to stir the chokecherry must once each day, rather than twice. Another difference is that I’ve never used a hydrometer before and don’t yet have all of what I need to use one in order to check specific gravity, final gravity etc.; I’ve since ordered the modest equipment that I need, so I will have it by the next time I start a batch of wine. This will help me keep better track of what my wine is doing at various stages of its progress, and will allow me to accurately measure the alcohol content, as well.

At the time of this writing, I am still in the beginning stages of fermentation. I will keep a record of my progress here on this thread as I learn what I am doing. This will serve the dual purpose allowing me to retrace my steps next time - adjusting when necessary - while also (hopefully) providing useful information for anyone who is wanting to start their own batch of chokecherry wine. This and subsequent posts will contain terminology that might be new to those who have not made wine before; to be honest, I am still learning many of these terms myself, so my understanding of them is still rather superficial. I might know some definitions, but it will take more experience before I am able to grasp the context of and interrelationships between many fundamental aspects of home winemaking. I will do my best to explain some of these terms when and where I can. If you have questions, please be sure to ask, or to consult many of the excellent resources available.

Here is a record of my progress up until this point:





















That’s where I am at so far - I’ll take a look at it this weekend and see what I’ve got.
I find this amazing !
 
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