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:
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
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 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.
The 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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