If there is one good reason not to strip the hedgerows of elderflower in the early summer it is surely to be able to harvest the berries for making free booze later in the year. I was mega excited to see the berries bursting from the bushes this year asthis meant that the tannins in my 2015 batch have had a full twelve months to mellow and should be ready for tasting. This is the hardest part of making your own grog, the waiting. I wasted three bottles during the last year due to impatiently opening them and trying them every few months before they were ready. Well they weren'tcompletely wasted, I drank them and the alcohol content was already there it just wasn't that nice, however I did discover on the second bottle I opened that if mixed 50/50 with a £5 Rioja it was much more palatable.
The twelve month (minium) wait aside, making elderberry wine is a fairly simple and fun process. I got my recipe from the River Cottage Booze handbook by John Wright well worth buying if you fancy a bit of homebrewing.
After gathering the berries the first job is to use a fork to remove the berries from the storks. This is one of those strangely enjoyable and therapeutic jobs until you notice the amount of spiders and other bugs running around in your berries at the back of your mind you know this is ok because the boiling water and sieving to come will remove any unwanted nasties but at the back of your neck you get a strange itching feeling as you think about how many of these bugs fell on your head while reaching for those high up branches.
There were two people even more excited than me about the appearance of elderberries and that was our two boys who remembered just how messy they got extracting the juice by squishing them underfoot. Infact the whole process of country wine makingis good fun for kids but they are even more impatient to try the end results than me so I make sure we have a carton of red grape juice ready for them to taste the next day because there is no way they are waiting a whole year.
So how did the 2015 batch turn out in the end? Thumbs up all round, we taste tested it against an inexpensive Chianti from the supermarket and it was to close to call but the elderflower was a clear leader in my eyes but this is something you will realise if you get into country wine making, other people havn't gone through the foraging, fermenting and agonising wait so what tastes like a beautiful fruity Fleurie to the maker only tastes almost as good as a cheap supermarket plonk to everyone else. I do however have two bottles left to keep until the 2017 harvest and I am confident that with an extra year to mellow and mature I will prove beyond doubt that 2015 truly was a great vintage year.