Home Wine Making With Strawberries
By Ed Kraus
There are many winemakers and wine drinkers who feel that grapes are the only suitable fruit for home wine making, that anything other than grape does not make wine but rather an alcoholic beverage of some other category. And, these purist are certainly entitled to their opinions.
But, it is hard for me to envision how even the staunchest purist could have ever tasted a strawberry wine of even mediocre quality and not have their own interpretation of wine making be made a wee bit wider.
To drink a strawberry wine is to experience something unexpected. Many people imagine strawberry wine to be thick and sweet, much like what you’d find on the table at IHop. While I’m sure there are many strawberry wines that have been made sweet, its real strength lies in its ability to taste remarkably good even when it is completely dry. This is an oddity for most fruit wines since they usually need to be sweetened back at least a little to help retain their fruity character and in some cases to round off an undesirable rough edge.
The strawberry wine does not present these types of wine making problems. It has many different detectable flavors that come out cleanly and all are quite pleasant. No masking with sugars or conditioners is necessary, and its fruitiness is ever present even when puckering dry.
A strawberry wine’s first impression is anything but flat or one dimensional. You are bombarded from all directions with many different flavors. Your senses have to work quite quickly to herd them all up.
And, there is no question that it is strawberry you’re tasting. Even with the lighter versions of this wine the strawberry's character remains distinct. This is usually a problem area when making wine with other lighter fruit wines. For example, pear wine can often be mistaken for apple wine.
Another feature that makes strawberry so well suited for home wine making is its aroma. The bouquet is quite present, distinct and very agreeable. It is light, sweet and “perfumey” and works in complete harmony with the wine to enhance its complexity. Some would describe a well made strawberry wine as even “sophisticated” in part because of this feature.
And, why am I telling you all of this? Very simple, I have yet to taste a bad strawberry wine. Regardless of who made it or the wine making procedure involved, strawberry wines always seems to have the ability to delight. And it is this delight I would like to share with you.
Where To Start?
As with any wine making effort, you must start with the produce. As it has been said many times before, “No wine can be better than the fruit used to make it”. The strawberry is no exception when it comes to home wine making.
Strawberries can be found in the United States being both grown domestically and wild.
If you can find wild strawberries you will be in for a treat as they make an incredibly intense wine, perfect for wine making. The wild strawberry is much smaller and grows fewer per plant, making picking a time consuming event. “Wild” would also imply that they’re in the woods, not at the grocery store or in your backyard. So like most good things in life, “it don’t come easy”.
But the upside makes it worth it. Each wild strawberry is powerhouse of flavor that has not yet been compromised by being bred for size or storage. It has a much deeper, rounded character and definitely well suited for home wine making, particularly when trying to achieve a heavier desert wine.
If tromping through the woods is not your thing, don’t sweat it. Tremendous wines can be made from domestic strawberries as well, and most are.
If you’re a winemaker of the green-thumb variety, you can certainly grow your own strawberries. Varieties with the best flavor for home wine making are: Albritton, Cardinal, Dunlap, Earliglow, Empire, Fletcher and Sparkle. This is according to Lewis Hill in his book “Fruits and Berries For The Home Garden”. You will also have to consider the growing zone you are in when making a selection.
The Strawberry Wine Making Recipe
The following two wine making recipes represent the extremes that can be reasonably achieved in terms of body with a strawberry wine. The first home wine making recipe being a light dinner wine that would be consumed as a White or Rosé would. The later being a full and assertive country style wine making recipe that would be consumed the same way as a dessert wine.
- TABLE STRAWBERRY WINE (5 Gallons)
12.5 lbs. Strawberries
1/8 Tsp. Sodium Bisulfite
Pectic Enzyme (as directed on package)
5 Tsps. Yeast Nutrient
1 Tsp. Wine Tannin
8 Tsps. Acid Blend (.60% tartaric)
8 lbs. Sugar (1.078)
1 Pkg. Champagne Yeast
(No Acid Blend or Wine Tannin required)
In reality most strawberry wine recipes will fall somewhere in between these two home wine making recipes. You can concoct your own wine making recipe by making a few logical adjustments. 1) Choose an amount of strawberries between 12.5 lbs. and 25 lbs. 2) Adjust the sugar level with the aid of a wine making hydrometer to produce the desired potential alcohol level (11% or S.G. of 1.086 recommended) and 3) Use a wine making titration kit to adjust your acid level to .60% tartaric.
The Pectic Enzymes, Yeast, and Yeast Nutrient do not change and the Wine Tannin is not critical just somewhere between 0 - 1 Tsp. based on the amount of strawberries being used; the more strawberries used the less Tannin required. The Sodium Bisulfite should be dosed somewhere close to 1/16 Tsp. per each 8 pounds of Strawberries.
Preparing The Strawberries For Wine Making
If the strawberries are fresh, lightly rinse with water and allow to drain. Then, remove all the stems and leaves. Discard any questionable ones and chop off any unripened areas you may find. Then coarsely chop them up. If the strawberries have been frozen, thaw completely then mash them.
Starting With A Wine Making Liqueur
To make a wine making liqueur take the chopped strawberries and put them into a primary fermenter such as a food grade pail or stone crock. Then add just enough water to barely cover the strawberries. Add to this the Sodium Bisulfite, Acid Blend and Wine Tannin as called for in the above home wine making recipes.
Do NOT add the Yeast Nutrient, Sugar or Yeast at this time.
And here is the important part: add the Pectic Enzyme as directed on the package it came in, based on the total batch size. In other words if 1/4 tsp. per gallon of Pectic Enzyme is called for and you are making five gallons, add 1-1/4 tsp. even though your wine making liqueur may currently only be around 2 gallons. This will allow the fruit’s pectin to be broken down faster than normal.
Let the mixture stand covered with a light towel for 24 hours. You can give it a stir from time to time. What you will notice during this period is that the wine making liqueur will change from a thick, pasty mixture to a thinner, “syrupy” mixture and will have a more candied appearance.
Also during this period, the Sodium Bisulfite that was added is sterilizing the wine making liqueur.
The Home Wine Making Fermentation
After waiting 24 hours, it’s time to dilute the wine making liqueur with water to 5 gallons. Stir in the sugar called for until completely dissolved, then add the Yeast Nutrient and Wine Yeast as called for in the above home wine making recipes.
Keep covered with a towel and allow to ferment. On or around the 7th day of a normal wine making fermentation you will notice the activity starting to decrease. The Specific Gravity reading will usually be between 1.025 and 1.035 on a wine making hydrometer. It is at this point in the wine making process that you are ready to rack (siphon) your must into a carboy leaving as much of the pulp and other sediment behind.
At this point attach a wine airlock and allow the must to ferment until it has completely stopped which will be about 4 to 6 weeks. At this point rack one more time into a clean secondary container re-attach the airlock to the carboy and allow to stand until the wine is completely clear. This will usually take an additional 1 to 2 weeks.
Now you have wine. If everything has gone as planned, it should be fairly dry at this point. If you prefer you wines a little sweeter, now is the time to sweeten to taste. You can use anything from table sugar to honey, but remember that anytime you add sugar to a finished wine you must then either add a stabilizer such as Potassium Sorbate or filter with a pressurized type filter system using “sterile” filter pads.
If you have never made a fruit wine, this is the fruit to start with. Homemade strawberry wine is very forgiving to blunders and mishaps that come along with new wine making territory. And most assuredly it will be a wine that will bring a smiles of pleasure to the faces of friends, guests.
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.