Cherry Wine Recipe

I made the case for white wine from cherries a while back, but when I made cherry wine yesterday it was a red. I bought 43 or so pounds of Bing Cherries, and after setting aside 4.5 lb for cherry liqueur, I had about 38 lb left for wine. They’re dark skinned cherries with red flesh, so they wouldn’t do for a white. Here’s how I started my red:

Ingredients:

38 lb (about 17 kg) Bing Cherries
3.5 lb (1.6 kg) sugar
3 quarts (2.8 liters) water
3 tsp pectic enzyme (approximately 7 g)
sulfite to 50 ppm (equivalent to 3 campden tablets)
0.5 tsp tannin (about a gram)
Premier Cuvee yeast

Cherry crush

I destemmed, sorted, and nibbled, by hand. It took a while, but Marsha and I did it together and that made it fun. The result: seven gallons of destemmed cherries ready to crush. An ordinary grape crusher would probably work, though you would need to adjust the rollers to accommodate the cherry pits. I used an older method …

Crushing cherries in a chest cooler with bare feet

Crushing the cherries with my bare feet worked well. I could feel the pits but they didn’t hurt, and I got through all the cherries quickly. Last year, I tried a potato masher. It was too flimsy, so I ended up crushing each cherry between my thumb and forefinger. I don’t recommend it. Anyway, at this point I added sulfite and pectic enzyme. Now I had to add water, sugar, and possibly acid to prepare the crushed cherries for fermentation.

Dilute with water?

Most traditional cherry wine recipes dilute with water. For every gallon of finished wine, you might use four to six pounds of fruit (500 to 750 g/L). That can be tempting on economic grounds alone. Even though I got a good deal on these cherries, an undiluted wine would cost between $5 and $6 per bottle, just in cherries. That’s a great price for commercial wine at retail, but high for homemade wine. In the end I decided that I really wanted to stay as close to conventional red wine as I could, so I did add water, but only a tad more than needed to dissolve the sugar.

Adjusting the sugar

And I did need to add sugar. To know how much, I first had to determine how much was in the cherries. I needed a clear sample of the juice, and that was harder to get than you might think. First I scooped a bunch of crushed cherries+juice through a strainer, and I measured the SG as 1.070. That’s high for cherry juice. What’s happening is that dissolved solids in the juice make it thicker, and that will push the SG higher, so I ran this juice through a coffee filter.

Filtering cherry juice with a funnel and a coffee filterThe filter quickly clogged and when I tried to get it going again, I tore it. I did better the second time. I was patient (didn’t know I had it in me!) and I changed the filter every time it clogged. It still took a long time, over an hour, but I got 0.5 cup (about 120 ml) of filtered juice with an SG of 1.065. I suspect that there’s less sugar than that, but I decided to use that number and target an SG of 1.090. If the sugar was indeed low, my actual SG would be a little less, but anything down to 1.075 would be ok with me. I created a spreadsheet to help me with sugar and acid additions, and after plugging in what I know (SG = 1.065), what I think (estimated liquid volume of the cherry juice of about 2 gallons), and what I’m aiming for (target SG = 1.090), I got back a suggestion to dissolve 3.5 lb of sugar in 3 quarts of water (roughly 1.6 kg sugar and 2.8 liters water).

Pitching the yeast now and adjusting the acid later

The dominant acid in cherries is malic, and Ben Rotter reports that Bing cherry juice often analyzes to 4.7 g/L, as malic. I have a simple acid test kit, but no pH meter. That makes measuring the TA of red juice difficult, so I’ve decided to wait until the wine has fermented out to adjust the acid.

The last step is to pitch the yeast. I had rehydrated it by pouring the yeast packet into 0.25 cups of warm water. After five minutes I added 0.25 cups of cherry juice. I added the tannin and another 0.25 cups cherry juice after it started foaming (about an hour), and I pitched it into the fermenter two hours later. Bottling is still a year or two a way, but I’m excited already!


Update 7/31/07: Sugar and acid

I have since bought a pH meter, and measured the acidity of my cherry wine. It was too high, but so was the pH and that made me reluctant deal with the problem by neutralizing some of the acid. So I’ve decided to balance the acidity by sweetening the wine. I think the high acidity is part of buying cherries at the grocery store; the cherries were just a little under ripe. I’m growing my own cherries, and once my bonsai orchard is producing I’ll have nice ripe fruit that’s not so acidic. In the meantime, I’ll try a different yeast: 71B by Lalvin. It metabolizes malic acid, and that should make it especially suitable for cherry wine.

Update 5/25/2009: Bottled!

Some have told me that it can’t be done, and it is difficult. But you can make a conventional red wine from cherries! It’s an enjoyable red wine and I would recommend it to anyone interested in this approach.



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65 thoughts on “Cherry Wine Recipe

  1. Erroll Post author

    Hi Mike,

    Sounds like the cherry wine is a winner, and getting 3 gallons of juice from 30 pounds of cherries is terrific. How did you juice them?

    I’m looking into processing fruit on a small scale without expensive equipment. I think a lot of home winemakers work with too much fruit for a home juicer, but not enough to justify things like crushers, grinders, presses and so forth.

    Erroll

  2. Mike

    Hey Erroll

    After taking the frozen fruit out of freezer, I added the lot to a primary 6 gallon, this filled the bucket pretty well to the top, then added 2 gallons water,,, BIG mistake lol basically turned the primary into one big popsicle,,,, next time I’ll spread them out as it took 2 days for the bucket to thaw …

    I used a wooden dowel and crushed what I could until my arm fell off,,,, once it was closer to room temp,,, i poured off the juice into a 12 gallong garbage can, filled a nylon strainer with fruit, and over the primary stage of 8 days, mixed up the must and spent a bit of time squeezing the bag and bursted any cherries that seemed whole …. when all was said and done, I wound up with pulp the size of a volleyball ,,,,

    It was a fun experience, and I’m looking forward to it again…

    Thanks for the help and guidance,, hope you have a great day

    Mike

  3. Debbie Czerwionka

    I am a newbie to wine making, made some bing cherry this spring, tried bottling and it actually is fizzy?! Also did some grape from frozen juice to experiment with, it has a kick to it and I am hoping to expand and improve my abilities. Can you tell me if you would mix a cherry (canned cherry juice from wine store), 2 cans each to yield a gallon, and 3 # of fresh cranberries and how to go about a 3 gallon recipe? The girl at the wine store suggested washing and freezing the cranberries and crushing or processing in food processor to get better juice in the mesh bag? I have been looking all over for a recipe to use these supplies and cannot figure out if the blend of these fruits is a good idea. HELP!

  4. Erroll Post author

    Hi Debbie,

    I wrote about cranberries in my “Know Your Ingredients” series: Know Your Ingredients: Cranberries. They’re high in acid and low in sugar, so it’s best to dilute cranberries when making wine (to deal with the high acid) and add sugar. Now, if you want to combine the cranberries with your cans of cherry juice, you’ll need to take into account the sugar and acid of the cherry juice as well. I would juice the cranberries, add the cherry juice, then measure the volume of the combined juice, it’s specific gravity (SG) and titratable acidity (TA). Plug those numbers, and your targets for SG and TA (if you don’t know what you want to target, try 1.090 and 6 g/L) in the Wine Recipe Wizard. It will suggest water and sugar syrup additions to make a balanced must.

    Hope this helps!
    Erroll

  5. Steve

    Errol,
    I built a jumbo arbor press for making hard cider last year. It really makes the pressing sequence fast. I want to use this press to make Rainier wine. The method involved sandwiching multiple layers of whole cherries wrapped in linen (maybe 5 or 6 layers). Each layer might contain 20-30 Lbs of cherries. In doing so, I think that most of the cherry pulp would remain in the wrapped sheets during the press so all that would flow into my collecting reservoir is the juice (less the pulp). I’m hoping the pulp doesn’t clog the pores in the sheets however at high pressing pressures (250-750PSI) I don’t think this will be an issue. Do you think I can get good fermentation without the pulp (using just rehydrated Lalvin 71B). I can also retrieve the pulp from the sheets and store it in a cheese cloth to add to the must to enhance fermentation. What do you suggest? Also, since I grow cherries and apples for a living, is there any reason to add water to my must?

  6. Erroll Post author

    Do you think I can get good fermentation without the pulp (using just rehydrated Lalvin 71B). I can also retrieve the pulp from the sheets and store it in a cheese cloth to add to the must to enhance fermentation. What do you suggest? Also, since I grow cherries and apples for a living, is there any reason to add water to my must?

    ———————————
    Hi Steve,
    I think you can get good fermentation with just the juice, and I’m really jealous of your press!

    The decision to ferment on the pulp comes down to what style of wine you want to make. Do you want to make something like a white or rose? In the end, I didn’t make one but here are my thoughts on making white cherry wine. If you go this rout, use juice only and ferment cool. More like a red wine? Ferment with the pulp (but not too long – 3 days, maybe). A little less acid than a white/rose.

    You might want to add water if the juice is too acidic, because reducing acidity in cherry wine is tricky. Or you could deal with high acid by sweetening.

    Erroll

  7. Brian

    Erroll,
    I thought I had done my homework quite well, however I feel I might have messed up my cherry wine, after the initial fermentation I put my wine in my 5 G carboy and put in the fermentation lock but unknowingly left out the liquid that goes into the lock to prevent oxygen from going in. Have I ruined it? And how will I know? Should I just taste it, and if so what shall I look for? The kicker is that I was only planning on saving a bottle or two and turning the rest into cherry wine vinegar. Any advice would be very much appreciated!

  8. Erroll Post author

    Hi Brian,

    First, get it under an airlock right away. Taste it to see if it has become oxidized (depends on how long, if it was still fermenting, if it was protected with sulfite). Good luck!

    Erroll

  9. Brian

    Erroll,
    Thank you for the advice, I did put the water into the lock, I used your recipe I added more sugar though. SG 1.09. The wine is finished fermenting as far as I can tell. I put it into the secondary on Aug 1st. There is a little film on the surface of the liquid, when I tap the side of the carboy I get a few bubbles but no real action. I will taste it tomorrow morning. Sorry this is a dumb question but what should it taste like? I assume if it is sour it has gone bad? Do you think there is any chance of it being good? Thanks and sorry for the ignorance, this is my first time.

  10. Brian

    The taste test was good, the wine tasted green but not like vinegar. since putting the water in the lock I have noticeable action going on. I will let it go a while and rack to a 3 gallon. Thanks for the help and the awesome recipe. If you have any other input it’s as always appreciated!

  11. Erroll Post author

    Hello Brian,

    I’m glad the taste test went well. You mentioned a surface film, and that concerns me. It’s best to physically remove it from you wine, either by carefully racking or by floating it out, then treat with sulfite.

    You asked what it should taste like. I used to get frustrated when people told me that something tasted “gamey,” until I ate venison. Now I think I know, but describing it in words? I don’t think I can, not without using the word gamey or referring to venison. It’s the same with oxidized wine. I’ve tasted it, I think I know it pretty well, but without saying things like, “you know, a little like sherry” I don’t know how to describe it.

    I’m having the same problem with a kit wine I’ve been making. Everything went without a hitch, but there’s something off about it. After writing down all the tastes and smells that came to mind, the Lady of the House and I did Google searches on those words plus things like “infection” or “wine fault.” Sadly, I may have my first case of Brett. It’s often described as having a “barnyard” odor. Barnyard, huh? I grew up in the city and I don’t know what barns or barnyards smell like

    Anyway, you’re not the first to let an airlock run dry – I’ve done it myself. When things don’t work out, learn from them. When they do, open a bottle and celebrate!

    Erroll

  12. Patsy

    I have been making wine for several years now. I started with Concord grapes from my yard. That wine took too long to cure, so I switched to fruit wines. Cherry is one of my favorites, but I have made Peach, Apple, Elderberry, Chokecherry, Raspberry, Rhubarb and probably a few more I have forgotten.
    My favorite wine is to make 3/4 cherry recipe and then add raspberry and rhubarb to the recipe. Raspberry is very strong, so not to add too much. Also, elderberries are very messy and mushy, to to avoid a mess and get more juice, pick the ripe ones and don’t even wash them just put them in freezer bags and wash them when frozen. It is so much better. After a while, you get brave and creative, and use your favorite fruit to experiment. I have never made a wine I didn’t like. Great hobby.

  13. Erroll Post author

    Hi Patsy,

    I always thought that cherry wine needed a little something extra, and I like your idea about blending it with raspberry and rhubarb wine.

    Erroll

  14. Monica

    My husband and I are looking for a recipe that uses white sweet cherries. All the recipes I have found call for red cherries. Can you help?

  15. Erroll Post author

    Hi Monica,

    I’ve never haven’t made wine from white cherries yet, but I have thought about it. The way I would do it is:

    Juice the cherries
    Analyze the juice
    Add water and sugar to your target SG and TA (I’d suggest 1.090 & 6 g/L)
    Ferment

    Try the Wine Recipe Wizard for help in figuring out how much sugar and water to add.

    Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

    Erroll

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