Cherry Wine Recipe: Bottled!

Sweet Cherry WineTwo years ago I set out to make wine from cherries the way you would make red wine from grapes. I bought 43 lb (19.5 kg) of Bing Cherries from Safeway, put them in a large picnic cooler, and crushed them the old fashioned way. Adjusting the sugar was a little tedious, but I was off to a great start. It turns out that the acidity of cherry wine is tough to get right, though, and in the end I sweetened it to balance tart tasting wine.

About the label

LouGarou is a talented photographer, and he was kind enough to let me use his photo in my wine label. He’s taken many exceptional shots, but the warm tones in this one made it just the thing for my label – thanks Lou!

I labeled it “Sweet Cherry,” and included alcohol content, TA, pH, and final gravity. Instead of a vintage (not too many people are going to be raving about “Safeway’s 2007 Bing Cherries”) I put a date range. The first date is the day I started and the end date is the day I bottled. You’ll know how long it bulk aged, how long it’s had in the bottle, and yes, when the cherries were grown – that date range says a lot without saying a lot.

How does the cherry wine taste?

I think I managed to balance the wine. The acidity is noticable, but it’s lively and not too tart. Sweetness is there too, but people who “don’t like sweet wine” liked it and didn’t think it was too sweet. I don’t notice the astringency that comes from tannin. This makes it an enjoyable red table wine, but unlike the dry reds that I’m used to. The flavor and aroma are different as well. I wouldn’t say it “tastes like cherries,” but there is something familiar from tasting commercial cherry wine (yes, there is such a thing).

Thoughts on my next cherry wine

This was a learning experience, and I’ve got a to-do list for the next one.

  • Use a yeast like Lavlin’s 71-B that consumes malic acid: since most of the acid in cherries is malic and I had trouble with too much acid, having the yeast remove some for me should make things easier.
  • Learn more about dealing with high titratable acidity (TA) and high pH at the same time: I’ve been reluctant to use phosphoric acid to adjust the pH because it can be dangerous to handle. Maybe I need to get comfortable with that or find another way to manipulate the different facets of acidity.
  • Learn more about cherries:  This is my second batch of cherry wine, and both batches had the high TA – high pH problem. Is it something about the variety of cherry (I used Bing each time)? how it’s grown? or are all cherries like that? I sense another know your ingredients post coming up.

Until then I’ll be enjoying my newly bottled cherry wine – cheers!



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26 thoughts on “Cherry Wine Recipe: Bottled!

  1. Matt

    Last fall I got a gallon bag of cherries from a co-worker of my wife’s from the tree in his yard so I decided to make wine from them (I don’t know what kind of cherries they were, possibly sour?). I had similar problems with the high acidity and had to balance by sweetening. I was able to reduce the acidity a bit during cold stabilization. But I like your suggestion of a malic acid eating yeast. The gallon of cherries only yielded one bottle of wine so I’m saving it for a special occasion.

  2. Erroll Post author

    I did, and I liked it. What made it special was that it came from grapes I grew myself (in pots, on the patio of my suburban backyard).

    Erroll

  3. John

    Hey, Erroll. Just dropping by to see how you have been doing since our last exchange. I have 3 gallons of strawberry wine going now. Hope to have them bottled late this summer to mid fall. Have you started anything new? Sorry for the trouble I put you and Marsha through with that last batch. I hate that it turned out the way it did. 🙁 But what can one do except move on and learn from one’s mistakes, right? Keep in touch and keep up the good work!

    – John

  4. Erroll Post author

    Hi John,

    Good to hear from you, and you’ve got nothing to be sorry for. When stuff happens, you learn from it and move on.

    This is looking to be a hectic year for me, so there aren’t going to be a lot of new batches. I did start a cranberry wine from concentrate – I had those cans of concentrate in the freezer for over a year, so I had to make that. Last year’s rhubarb harvest was still in the freezer, so I started a rhubarb wine too.

    I’ve never made strawberry wine, but I am curious so keep me posted!

    Erroll

  5. John

    The kids and I will be going out very soon to harvest as many pounds of blackberries as we can. One of my family’s favorite wines is my blackberry wine, so I have to make much more this year than I did last year or I’ll have a mutiny on my hands! What with my father, mother, sister, brother-in-law, brother and his wife, best friend and his wife, plus my wife and me – there sure are a lot of appetites to satiate, so I’ll try to get enough berries to make at least one 5 gal. batch. At 6 lbs./gal. that means we have to get at least 30 lbs. of berries this year. Last year we only got a little over 12 lbs., but we didn’t go out every day like we will this year.

    Anyway, glad to hear you are at least staying busy. Keep up the great blog. As always, you are appreciated!

    – John

  6. Steve Mamerow

    Erroll,
    Came upon your webiste when googling sour cherry wine recipes. Much good info to digest.
    I have three sour cherry trees that are now producing enough cherries to make wine with. They are North Star, Suda Hardy and Montmorency.
    I will try your suggestion to use Lavlin’s 71-B yeast. What type of Ph meter do you have? I’m relativley new to wine making (have made blueberry, Niagara grape and homegrown Asian Pear wines) and have measured the TA but never the pH.
    Steve

  7. Erroll Post author

    Hi Steve,

    I bought the cheapest pH meter I could find. Its one of those no-name (literally – there is no indication of who the manufacturer is on the meter of in the very sparse instructions) pen type meters that cost about $50 if I remember correctly. That’s not far from the price of a replacement electrode for a bench top meter. A more expensive meter might be worth the money, but I think the difference between no pH meter and any pH meter is huge – much bigger than the difference between a cheap pH meter and an expensive pH meter.

    I have a Montmorency tree myself, but I’m not familiar with the other two you mentioned. I hope all goes well with the cherry wine – let me know how it turns out.

    Erroll

  8. Matt

    Nice to hear you had a successful wine. I think what you mean is that your pH is too “low.” A low pH indicates high acidity. Ha, phosphoric acid is dangerous? Good one. It’s nontoxic and they use it as tooth whitener and in common soft drinks. Depends on concentration I guess, but even concentrated isn’t much harm. This coming from someone who has dealt with real nasties like sulfuric and nitric acids. Btw, most reliable pH meters are very expensive.

  9. Erroll Post author

    Hello Matt,

    You’re right that low pH indicates high acidity, so I can see why you might think I meant “low pH.” But I didn’t. That’s what made the problem difficult – I could bring down the TA by neutralizing acid, but that would raise the already-too-high pH. I go into more detail in this post on difficult acidity problems.

    Phosphoric acid isn’t commonly available in the homebrew stores I visit, but Prsesque Isle carries it. From their description:

    Phosphoric Acid, 25% solution … This is a strong mineral acid which requires careful handling.

    So I appreciate what you say. It’s comforting that it may not be as dangerous as I thought, but as someone who hasn’t had a lot of experience with hazardous materials, I (still) choose to heed their warning.

    A high end pH meter may well be worth the money in some cases, but my budget model is accurate to 0.1 and has been stable against buffer solutions for long periods of time. For me, and a lot of home winemakers, a high end model might be a waste of money.

    Erroll

  10. Chris

    Hi Erroll,

    If you’re still in Washington State you may know 2009 was a record crop for Cherries. The grocers have them $1/pound and here in Eastern Washington they are literally giving them away; I’ve seen several orchards in the last few weeks with FREE U-Pick signs posted. Don’t know how much longer they’ll last though.

    Due to this bounty, I ended up with about 100 extra pounds of free Bings, and I tried a cherry wine using some of your tips from your experience as well as others on the web. I’ve got between around gallons of must in three 5 gallons fermentors that I adjusted to 24 Brix and used Premier Cuvee yeast.

    Thanks especially for your tips on acidity. The Bings were at 20-21 Brix off the tree, so acid is fairly low. I didn’t pay much attention top that when I set up the primary, but I’ll be adjusting before I rack to secondary fermntors in a few days.

    Great Website!

  11. Chris

    Wow, typos galour and I haven’t even been drinking…

    …around 10 gallons of must…

    Also, low acid may or may not have anything to do with sugar content, but Bings are probably naturally lower in acid, that say montomercy or other tart “pie” cherries.

  12. Erroll Post author

    Hi Chris,

    I won’t be able to take advantage of the great deal on cherries this year, but I’m glad you could – wow, 100 lb of cherries for free! I liked how my cherry wine turned out, and I’ll be interested to know how yours turns out.

    Erroll

  13. Nadine

    Hi Anyone making cherry wine,

    I made 46 liters of cherry wine add 2 cups of black tea to the must, it balances everything out as well as adding tannins to the mix, it was the must beautiful wine, not acidic at all, and I only used sour cherries.

  14. Erroll Post author

    Hi Nadine,

    Thanks for the tip. Do you notice an contribution from the tea in the flavor of the wine? Have you tried commercial tannin? If so, how does it compare to using tea? Congratulations on making a great batch of wine!

    Erroll

  15. Dianne

    Hi All:

    I have made my first batch of cherry wine and find that it does not have a strong cherry flavour. I would also like to sweeten it some. I am thinking about getting some organic cherry juice, adding some sugar and then adding that to the batch. Thoughts??

    I also have some frozen bing cherries and was wondering if anyone had made cherry/crab apple wine? Not sure how many cherries vs the tart crab apples to use.

    Cheers, Dianne

  16. Edwin Hoogerbeets

    When making cherry wine, you have to worry about stability. (I don’t know, maybe your house is like mine and the wine doesn’t last long enough for it to be a problem. 😉

    One thing you have to be careful of is the proteins in the cherries, which can cause the wine to go bad relatively quickly (18 months?). The guy at the local wine shop recommended using bentonite to precipitate out the proteins after the 1st racking.

    Another thing I tried is malo-lactic bacteria, which convert the malic acid which is dominant in cherries to the softer, rounder lactic acid. This also helps stabilize the wine, and is often used in red grape wines. There are various types of MLB, but I always use Lallemand 31 or 41.

    I produced a very nice cherry wine 3 years ago from local California bings, but unfortunately left it on the oak chips way too long, which ruined it. I also used this stuff called “Optired” which contains enzymes which break down the skins. Normally, it is used for grape wine, but I tried it with cherries, and it worked there too. It made for a heavier body than the typical cherry wine, which is usually pretty light, as more flavor was extracted from the skins.

    Maybe I’ll try again next summer and leave the oaking part out. 😉

  17. Erroll Post author

    Hello Edwin,

    I’ve been reluctant to try malo lactic fermentation in wines where malic is the dominant acid. What I’m worried about is all that malic acid getting converted and leaving the wine with an excess of lactic acid. Did you find any sourness, a hint of yogurt, in your cherry wine?

    Erroll

  18. Joseph

    Greetings to all.
    Just surfed by. nice topic Cherry wine
    just made my frist batch of cherry wine this past summer.
    have 5 trees rainer.and one vamp used 50# of rainers
    made 10 gals. going to bottle in march. also 25gals of concord blush, nice web sight might plant my feet.
    Best Joseph
    cashmere WA.

  19. Erroll Post author

    Hi Joseph,

    I have four cherry trees in pots, and my harvest is tiny. I would love to get 50 lb/year from my own trees!

    Glad you stopped by,

    Erroll

  20. Joseph

    Greetings Erroll
    Most of the time we get about 300 to 500#.Last summer was a wopper year, but i only used 50# this year goining to use 300#or more. want to make 50gal,s i used 4.5# of cherrys to gal water this year i will use 6# to gal water.
    Best Joseph

  21. Sour Cath

    Thanks for the info on cherry wine. I have made several batches of sour cherry wine from montmorency cherries. These last few days, I have started a second batch from 8 lbs of this years cherries which I have done in the past following Jack Kellers suggestions. This time, however maybe from the fruit yeast, a milky substance has appeared? The yeast is very active, as I added two yeast packages, plus yeast nutrition. The wine has been frothing and bubbling vigorously. I have never seen a milky colouration? I mean strong milking colouration has appeared throughout the second batch. The smell is of What could it be?

  22. Erroll Post author

    Hi Cath,

    So there’s something white in your wine that has a smell you can’t describe? That’s not enough for me to pin it down, but the best approach is to assume it’s an infection and act accordingly. That means physically separating the foreign substance form the rest of your wine and adding sulfite. If this stuff is forming a layer, floating on the top or settling on the bottom, then you should be able to rack the wine off of it. The next step is to add sulfite. Did you sulfite at the beginning? If so, use a normal dose (1 campden tablet or equivalent per gallon). If not, use twice the normal dose.

    If it’s well mixed with your wine, then you may have to rely of sulfite alone. That’s less likely to work, but worth a try.

    I don’t know what your procedures are like, but anytime you have an infection you should look at improving your sanitation. Once this batch is finished, clean your equipment thoroughly. Sanitize *all* equipment that might come into contact with your wine/must before starting your next batch. Use sulfite. Wash your hands – I often use rubbing alcohol on my hands after I’ve washed them and wait for them to dry (it doesn’t take long) before going to work.

    I hope this helps – good luck!

    Erroll

  23. Sour Cath

    Thanks Erroll,
    When I started the sour cherry batch I added 4 campion tablets. The equipment had been washed and rinsed with metabisulphate and sun dried for 2 hours. However, birds had been in the trees dropping .. you know what .. fecal matter on the fruit. I washed the fruit and froze it, and then started the batch from frozen fruit and boiled water then added sulfate. It was not until I started to extract the first batch of primary fermentated wine from the carboy that I noticed this milky like substance seeping from the fruit at the end of the extraction. The contaminate was been sucked out of the cherries.
    To create a second primary fermentation, I add more water, sugar, and nutrients to make that second batch Jack Keller talks about. The first batch is often too strong so I blend the two batches. I should have stopped at the point when I saw the milky substance present because now in the second batch of primary fermentation there is a cloudy substance. The substance isn’t on top nor on the bottom of the carboy it is throughtout the wine turning it the colour of pastel pink. I have never seen this colour before; sort of a whitist, pinkish cream soda.

    What I had done differently was change the yeast.

    To be honest with you the concoction smells of yeast. I don’t smell cherry, I just smell yeast and sulfate. This yeast is highly active; with froth at the top, bubbling at the vent, and fussing when you remove the cork. The first batch behaved the same but with the correct colour.

    Do I throw it away, and call it a contamination? Or do I wait to see what it taste like in a couple of days when I extract the ‘wine’ ?

    Cath

  24. Erroll Post author

    Hi Cath,

    It sounds like your procedures are good; I just don’t know what that milky substance could be. I’d keep going with this one, as long as it didn’t smell or taste off, and see how it turns out. Then let me know – you’ve got me curious!

    Erroll

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