Category Archives: cherry wine

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!

Commercial Cherry Wine

I’m still trying to get the hang of cherry wine, but while I tinker and tweak I might be able to buy some from the Ten Spoon Vineyard. This Montana winery uses Lambert cherries from Flathead Lake to make a dry red wine. I always get excited when I find the pros making “fruit wine.” I got some great advice on making rhubarb wine from the Lynfred Winery, and I’m hoping the people at Ten Spoon will share some tidbits.

I haven’t looked in on last year’s cherry wine since July, when I noticed a problem with the acidity. The total acidity (TA) was too high, which I would ordinarily address by neutralizing some of it. The pH was high as well, and that made my job tougher. If I went ahead and neutralized some of the acid to get the TA down, I would also be raising the already-too-high pH. So my thought was to leave the acid alone and balance it with sugar. Maybe I can get some advice on this – and find out if any of the shops around here carry Ten Spoon’s cherry wine!

Red Wine From Cherries: Revisiting the acid problem

Making red wine from cherries

I made cherry wine, in June 2006 and 2007, like a red wine from grapes. I crushed the fruit, adjusted the sugar and acid, and pitched the yeast. The sugar and acid profile of cherries is very different from that of grapes, so “adjusting the sugar and acid” is a much bigger step in making cherry wine than it is in making red wine from grapes.

Acid: Fixing one problem will make another worse

I just racked the 2006 cherry wine, and that “bigger step” is proving to be a real headache. The pH is too high, which puts the wine at risk of spoiling, and the titratable acidity (TA) is too high, which leaves the wine tasting tart. I first noticed this problem a few months ago in my 2007 cherry wine, and decided to wait a while before acting. Ok it’s been a while, and I think I’ve just proven the old adage that ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away! Here is an analysis of both wines:

Name Date SG pH TA (g/L)
2006 Cherry Wine 11/21/2007 1.010 3.83 9
2007 Cherry Wine 7/30/2007 1.007 3.76 11
2007 Cherry Wine 11/21/2007 1.006 3.90 7

Both wines finished off dry, and both suffer from high pH and high TA. I don’t have earlier data for the 2006, because I didn’t have a pH meter or an acid test kit when I made it, but the measured pH rose and the TA fell in the 2007 cherry wine. I’ll tackle the 2006 vintage first. The way I see it, I’ve got two options in dealing with these problems.

The simple option: Add acid and balance with sugar

Adding more acid will lower the pH. That will solve the first part of the problem and improve the wine’s stability. Neutralizing some of the existing acid will lower the TA, which will solve the second part of the problem and improve the wine’s flavor. Speaking of flavor, it isn’t very good. I don’t think I can describe it in any useful way, Marsha said it was “icky,” but it didn’t taste tart. I think that gives me some leeway to lower the pH by adding tartaric acid, even though the TA is already high.

The complicated option: Replace one kind of acid with another

The acid in my cherry wine is mostly malic. That’s different from grape wine, where the acid will be mostly tartaric. What if I could replace some of that malic acid with tartaric? That would make it more like a conventional grape wine, and might solve my twin acid problems. This would mean neutralizing some malic acid first, then adding tartaric acid. It turns out that neutralizing malic acid is tricky and it makes this option a lot more complicated than just adding tartaric acid and relying on residual sugar to balance it. My 2007 cherry wine has the same acid problem, so whichever option I choose, I’ve got a lot riding on the outcome.

Cherry Wine Recipe: Sugar and acid

Too much acid, but I don’t dare neutralize it

I pressed the cherry wine four weeks ago, and looked in on it yesterday. It’s had time to settle, and the clear wine has a lovely dark color. It tastes tart, though, and when I measured the total acidity (TA) I could see why. It was 11 grams/Liter, as tartaric, and in a dry red wine it ought to be more like 6 or 7 g/L. Usually TA and pH move in opposite directions; if your TA is high, all that acid pushes the pH low. This time, however, the pH was 3.76, which is higher than the 3.2 to 3.6 optimal range for red wine. The problem with a high pH is that it makes a wine vulnerable to microbes, and it may not age as well. You can remedy a high pH by adding acid. If the TA is too high, you can neutralize some of the acid, as I did recently with my oregano wine. But how do you deal with too much acidity and a high pH?

So I’ll bring the wine into balance by sweetening it

The high TA affects the taste, so the way out of this dilemma is to improve the taste without affecting the acidity. That way, I can fix the acidity problem without making the pH problem worse. We know that acids can make a wine taste tart, but there are other influences on a wine’s taste. Tannins provide bitterness, while sugar and alcohol provide sweetness. A wine tastes best when none of these influences overpower the others. Such a wine is said to be in balance. You can actually think of it as an old fashioned balance scale, with tannin (bitterness) and acid (sourness) on one side. Sugar and alcohol, both providing sweetness, would be on the other. My cherry wine is out of balance, with too much acidity. Since I don’t want to make a fortified wine, my best bet for bringing the wine back into balance is to add sugar. To do this, I need to wait until the yeast is dormant. Then I can stabilize the wine with sorbate, which prevents the yeast from fermenting the added sugar, and sweeten.

But I have to wait until the yeast goes dormant

To determine if the yeast is dormant, I looked at the specific gravity. It was 1.007, which indicates some residual sugar. Either the fermentation had stuck or the yeast is still (slowly) fermenting. I can’t say for certain, so I’ll rack the wine now, which will get it off the sediment, and recheck in a few months. If the SG hasn’t changed, then I’ll know the yeast is inactive. If, on the other hand, the yeast was still going, it will likely finish at a lower SG in those months. Either way, I anticipate stabilizing and sweetening then. Waiting a few months will also let me repeat the TA and pH measurements. A high pH and a high TA is out of the ordinary, so I’d like to double check. Right now, I’ve got some racking to do.

Update 2/23/2009: More options for high pH – high TA wines

I’ve run into the same problem again, and I’ve given it some more thought. Sweetening to bring the wine into balance solves half of the problem, without making the other half worse, and that’s an improvement. I may have found a way to solve both halves of the problem by using phosphoric acid. I talk about that in a new post about solving acidity problems.

Update 5/25/2009: A happy ending

It’s in the bottle and worth the effort – an enjoyable red wine and I would recommend it to anyone interested in this approach.

Cherry Wine Recipe: Pressed

I pressed the cherry wine last night. I got just under three gallons of free run, and another half gallon or so after pressing.

Free run cherry wine in a carboy. The wine is dark red with a layer of pink foam that comes just up to the '3' mark. These marks indicate gallons, and the one above it looks like a '1' but is actually '4' with some of the ink worn off.

The photo is from last night and shows the free run wine in a carboy. It’s foamy because I just poured it in through a funnel, and it’s still fermenting. You can see the foam comes up to the 3-gallon mark (the next mark is a “4” but looks like a “1” because some of the ink has worn off). Now that I’ve pressed, and the cherry wine is fermenting under an airlock, I’ll start on the cherry mead!

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:


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.

A good deal on cherries and a honey varietal dilemma

An opportunity needs to be siezed

Safeway is having a sale, cherries for $1.49/lb, and that got me thinking about honey varietals. Let me back up a little. About this time last year, I bought 40 lb of cherries, some from Safeway, and made cherry wine. After I pressed the wine, I made cherry mead in the same way you might make a “second wine.” You make a second wine by adding water, sugar, and acid to the pomace of a wine (so far as I know, nobody calls it the “first wine”). I liked the idea of getting as much use as possible out of the cherries, and decided to use honey instead of sugar. I planned to do the same thing this year, so I’ve been watching for sales on cherries. Now that the sale is on, I realized I was down to my last gallon, give or take, of wildflower honey.

A dilemma needs to be resolved

I didn’t want to use the last of it for the cherry mead (often called “cherry melomel”). Oh, it would make a fine cherry mead, but I thought it would be better for my beer-like mead. Why? It’s dark and even seems a little malty to me, so I think it would be a really good match. The problem is that I’ve got to move fast on the cherries; I’ll probably only get such a good price this week, and a quick check of my schedule says that this Friday would be the best day to buy the cherries and make the wine. Because I’m making a cherry mead from the pomace, I want to press the cherry wine early – three days into fermentation. After all, there’s got to be something left in them for the mead. That means I need another gallon or so of honey on Monday. If I use the wildflower honey that I’ve got, then I’ll either need to use a different honey for the beer-like mead or order another five gallons of the wildflower. There’s nothing wrong with that – I like the honey, but I was hoping to try a different kind. Orange Blossom maybe.

Montmorency Cherry

When selecting my cherry trees, I was thinking in terms of making red and white wine from sweet and tart cherries. I need clear juice to make white cherry wine and red/black skins to make red cherry wine. That means at least four different cherry trees: two tart and two sweet, and at least one of each has to have clear juice. Montmorency is the tart cherry with clear juice, making it an amorelle type. Since it has red skin, I’ll be able to make red wine as well. That means I could have managed with just three trees and skipped the tart cherry with red juice. I don’t know of any dark skinned sweet cherries with clear juice, so I still needed two sweet cherry trees.

White Wine From Cherries?

Isn’t cherry wine is supposed to be red?

I mentioned white cherry wine in passing here, but most people think of cherry wine as a red. The only commercial cherry wine I’ve tried is a red – crushed, fermented on the skins, then pressed. Every recipe I’ve seen involves either fermenting on the skins or fermenting red juice. When I first made cherry wine, last year, I wanted to make it like a conventional grape wine rather than a “country wine” (4-6 lb of fruit per gallon, with added water, sugar, and acid). I made a red cherry wine. In fact, it never occurred to me that I might make a white.

So why a white cherry wine?

There’s a story about white Zinfandel, and how difficult it was to get it accepted. Reviewers reviewed harshly and judges judged skeptically because everyone knew than Zinfandel was supposed to be red. Eventually this new white was judged on it merits and has become a popular wine. Now, I’m not sure if this story is actually true (anyone out there know?), and I don’t even drink white Zin, but why not a white cherry?

How do you make white cherry wine?

Two of the cherry trees I grow, Montmorency and White Gold, will produce fruit with clear juice. I was looking for that specifically, because I wanted to make white wine from them. The idea is to keep the process as close as possible to a conventional white wine from grapes. Crush and press the fruit, adjust the sugar and acidity of the juice, then pitch the yeast. I’m open to diluting with water if the acidity is too high, but I’m hoping that won’t be necessary. I’m also willing to be flexible about what “too high” is. If the acid profile looks like Riesling, I may just treat it like one rather than “correct” it to more normal levels. If I get enough fruit from each tree, I’d like to ferment them separately. That way I can see how each tastes on its own, then try different blends. Plenty of ideas, not enough cherries!

Surefire Cherry

Surefire is one of four cherry trees growing in my bonsai orchard, and the only one that will produce fruit, if just a handful, this year. It’s a tart cherry with red skin, flesh, and juice; I can’t wait to make red cherry wine and liqueur from it.

Surefire cherry fruiting on 5/30/07. The young cherry is green with some dried flower petals still visible.

I bought the tree this year, so I wasn’t expecting fruit. That little tree gave me a terrific surprise though! I took the above photo at the end of May, and it shows the young cherries, still green, with some of the flower petals visible. By June 12, the fruit began to change color. I never imagined that I’d be so excited about five or six cherries!

Surefire cherry fruit changing color on 6/12/07

You can see the color change in the above photo, and that will get the birds just as excited as I am. I think I should have first crack at them, so I’ll be putting up bird netting soon.

Why I Picked The Surefire Cherry Tree

I wanted both sweet and tart cherries because wanted to see how different cherry wine, made from sweet cherries, is from tart cherry wine. Of the tart cherries, I wanted both morello (red flesh and red juice) and amorelle (yellow flesh and clear juice) types. I plan to make white cherry wine from the amorelles and red wine from the morellos. Surefire is a morello type of tart cherry that is productive and bears at a young age. It also has some resistance to cracking and bacterial canker, two of the three problems cherries face in western Washington. There’s only one solution for the third problem, birds, and that’s netting.