Category Archives: Rhubarb Wine

Rhubarb is a versatile, high quality ingredient for homemade wine. It blends well with other ingredients and it’s great on it’s own. It takes to oak, ages well, and can be made sweet or dry.

Know Your Ingredients: Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a high quality ingredient that can make a great, age-worthy wine. It’s also a versatile ingredient that shines in many different styles. To take advantage of its versatility, you need to know what it brings to your wine and what you need to add.

Sugar and acidity of rhubarb juice

So what does a winemaker need to know about rhubarb? The short answer is sugar and acid. Getting that right is the biggest part of any successful recipe. It turns out that rhubarb has a lot of acid and not much sugar. I juice the rhubarb and normally see measurments like this (these figure are from my most recent batch):

specific gravity (SG): 1.020, titratable acidity (TA): 14 g/L as tartaric, pH: 3.19

This agrees with Ben Rotter’s data:

SG: 1.020, TA: not enough data, pH: 3.17

Most of that acid, 70% or more, is malic.

Juice yield

A lot of people make rhubarb wine by fermenting on the fruit, and most recipes specify the amount of rhubarb by weight. To make sense of these recipes, or make wine with whole fruit, or to compare notes with other wine makers, you’ll need to know how much juice a given weight of rhubarb will yield. I got 515 ml (17.4 fl oz) of juice from 1.115 kg (2.5 lb) of fruit, or a yield of 462 ml/kg (7 fl oz/lb).

I froze the rhubarb, thawed it in a strainer and got 225 ml (7.6 fl oz) of “free run” juice. Then I lightly pressed, just squeezing with my hands, to get another 290 ml (9.8 fl oz). This is low compared to Mr. Rotter’s data (470 – 830 ml/kg). The pulp I discarded was wet, so I could have gotten more with a small press.

You know your own procedures better than I do. Do you efficiently squeeze the fruit leaving bone-dry pulp? Expect over 600 ml/kg (9.2 fl oz/lb). If you press lightly and leave wet pulp, then you’re more likely to get 500 ml/kg (7.7 fl oz/lb), give or take. Now we have some information on yield, sugar, and acidity. What can we do with these data?

The possibilities are endless

I normally make my rhubarb wine dry, and I can tell you it’s terrific that way. I’ve tasted sweet rhubarb wine that was fabulous. I’ve aged rhubarb wine over two years and noticed improvement. I’ve tasted 5+ year old rhubarb wine from the Montana Hutterites that was superb. I’ve heard that the Hutterites successfully age their wine for decades, and Ben Rotter aged a sweet rhubarb wine for 30 years, and it hadn’t past it’s peak. Many wine makers have found rhubarb to be an excellent blending wine.

This is what I mean when I say that rhubarb is versatile. That’s why no recipe can show you “what rhubarb wine tastes like”. To find out, you need to go beyond any one recipe and try different variations. Honey instead of sugar, sweet instead of dry, dry instead of sweet, high acid like a Riesling – and do set some bottles aside for extended ageing! While we’re on the subject of ageing, I wouldn’t recommend rhubarb as an early drinker. Even if you decide against extended ageing, you’ll want to give it at least a year.

Further reading

The Rhubarb Compendium – a good collection of rhubarb information
Improved Winemaking – Ben Rotter’s website – From his fruit data to ideas on wine styles, there’s a lot here for any winemaker

Rhubarb Wine With No Added Water?

I make rhubarb wine every year. I get about 6 fl oz/lb (400 ml/kg) of juice when I thaw frozen rhubarb, and since I use about 3 lb/gal (360 g/L) of rhubarb I need to add a lot of water. But 6 fl oz/lb scales up to over 4.5 gallons from 100 lb of “fruit.” That’s not far from the yield I expect from grapes, and it made me wonder about making rhubarb wine without added water. When the Lynfred Winery announced a commercial rhubarb wine, I wondered even more. Can commercial wineries add water? I don’t think they can, so I asked them how they made their wine. They were kind enough to explain their method: thaw frozen rhubarb, add sugar to about 20 Brix, then pitch the yeast. No added water and no neutralizing the oxalic acid. They did mention that the wine needed residual sugar to balance the acid.

I think I’m going to need a lot of rhubarb this year … and maybe a bottle of Lynfred’s Rhubarb.

Knowledge is power: What winemakers need to know about rhubarb

For more information about rhubarb, like how acidic is it? how much sugar? and other things winemakers need to know when they make rhubarb wine, see here ~ Know Your Ingredients: Rhubarb.

Update 3/28/2011: Commercial Raspberry Wine is made the same way

Homemade raspberry wine is also made with a small amount of fruit and a lot of water. Why? Rhubarb and raspberries are both highly acidic, so commercial wineries approach raspberry wine the same way Lynfred makes rhubarb wine: All fruit with little or no added water, sugar to bring the must up to wine strength, and sweetening to balance the acidity.

Rhubarb Wine Recipe

I’ve been anticipating this since May, and now it’s finally time to make Rhubarb Wine. I grow the rhubarb in my garden, harvest several times (freezing each harvest), and make a gallon or two of wine every year. Here’s how I do it:

Ingredients For 1.5 gallons (about 5.7 liters) of must

3-4 lb (1.4-1.8 kg) rhubarb
Sugar to specific gravity 1.090 – up to 4 lb (1.8 kg) sugar
0.125 tsp (0.3 g) tannin
1 tsp (5 g) diammonium phosphate (DAP)
1 tsp (2.3 g) pectic enzyme
sulfite to 50 ppm (equivalent to 1.5 campden tablets)

How do you juice rhubarb?

I’ve tried things like cutting it up and putting it in a blender and soaking in water. The best ways to “juice” rhubarb are freeze/thaw and sugar extraction. I usually do both. As you harvest the rhubarb, wash it and cut it up into 0.5 inch (1.25 centimeter) pieces and freeze them. When you are ready to make wine, thaw the rhubarb and put it in a strainer. I usually get 2/3 – 3/4 cup/pound (350-400 ml/Kg) of rhubarb juice this way. Once you’ve strained the juice, sulfite it. Next, place the rhubarb in a container and cover with about 1 lb (about 450 grams) of sugar. Let it sit until the sugar has dissolved (about two or three days), then strain off the liquid. Place the rhubarb back in the container and cover with water for a few hours or overnight. This is a rinse to get every last bit of “rhubarbness.” Strain the liquid and discard the spent rhubarb. At this point, I dissolved the tannin, DAP, and pectic enzyme in 0.25 cups (about 60 ml) of water and added it to the liquid.

Measure then adjust the sugar

I repeated the sugar extraction step, so I used 2 lb (about 825 g) of sugar, and ended up with 2.36 quarts (2.23L) of SG 1.114 liquid. I’m going to switch to metric measures, because calculations are easier, and report numbers with much more precision than I can measure so that I don’t carry rounding errors from one step to the next. I’m aiming for 5.68L of must with an SG of 1.090. Adding 3.568L of SG 1.075 sugar water will yield 5.8L of 1.090 must. An SG of 1.075 implies 232 g of sugar in each liter of solution (not 232 g added to 1L of water!). So 3.568L at 232 g/L means 828 grams of sugar. I boiled 1L of water, took it off heat, dissolved the sugar, and brought it back to a boil. Once it was boiling, I took the pan off the heat and cooled it in a water bath for 15 minutes. I used a measuring cup to determine the volume of sugar water (1.45L) and added it to my fermenter. Then I added tap water until I reached 3.568L total.

I added the sugary rhubarb juice to the sugar-water in the fermenter and measured the specific gravity. I should have 5.8L of SG 1.090 must, and I measured the SG as 1.095 – my kitchen scale and measuring cups were never going to be very accurate, so I’m calling that good!

What about the pH and titratable acidity?

If you’ve read many of my posts, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the acidity of the must. I’m always going on about how important pH is to stability and titratable acidity (TA) is to taste. What’s going on? I’ve made rhubarb wine for years, and I’ve found that using rhubarb at a rate of 1.5-3 lb/Gallon (180 – 360 g/L) of must consistently gets me close to 6 g/L acidity. So I’ve decided to wait until it ferments out, then measure the acid and make any corrections.

Isn’t the oxalic acid dangerous?

Some wine makers neutralize virtually all the acid in rhubarb, then add back acid (tartaric, citric, or a blend). They do this to remove the oxalic acid, which is toxic and present in rhubarb. Removing the oxalic acid will change the wine; I think it detracts from rhubarb’s unique character. Most of the oxalic acid is in the leaves, and I make rhubarb wine with the stalks only (so should you!). It’s true that the stalks contain some oxalic acid, and while I don’t know what the precise amount is or exactly how much of this acid can be dangerous, I can tell you that I’ve made – and consumed – rhubarb wine this way for years with no ill effects. Obviously, I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought it was harmful, but you’ll have to make your own judgment about that.

With nothing left to do, it’s time to pitch the yeast. They’re the real wine makers, and they should have this must turned into wine in the next week or so. Then I’ll rack as needed, and bottle in about a year. It’ll be drinkable soon after that, but it ages very well, so keep a few bottles if you can.

Rhubarb Wine

I remember when I was offered my first taste of rhubarb wine. I had never sampled non-grape wine (country wine) before, but my thoughts changed from “is this a joke?” to “how much of this have you got?” with the first sip. I have since planted rhubarb in my garden, and I’ve been making wine from it for two years. I owe a lot to the Hutterite colony in Montana, they still make that terrific wine, for their inspiration and generous advice.

Rhubarb stalks on the cutting board - 4/25/07

The first harvest of 2007 yielded 10 oz (about 275 grams), and I expect to harvest every month through August. I discard the leaves, chop up the stalks and freeze them. Once I’ve gathered the entire harvest (last year’s was 4lb or about 1.8 kg), I’ll begin work on my third vintage.