November 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’re anything of a forager, after summer and fall, you have a freezer full of frozen berries. They can keep for a long time, and it’s easy to pick more than is necessary once you get into the bushes. Foraged berries are great. But when the next year rolls around, you need to make room. It’s time to use up those frozen berries.

Producing wine can use up quite a few. Frozen berries are easier to ferment because the freezing and thawing breaks down the cell walls of the fruit, making it easier to juice firmer berries. And just about everyone loves wine. It makes a great gift, and the wine will be done just in time for the holiday (if started far enough in advance in the fall). Clearing out your freezer will make room for fall berries, winter trout, and other game.

Personally, I had a freezer full of aronia berries from Kurt and Tina Geschwender, who live in Ponca Hills, and were gracious enough to let a friend and I pick their excess. The berries are firm and tart, a bit like cranberries, and are loaded with antioxidants. Because they are so sturdy, freezing helps to pulp them, lending to a better wine with less effort.

Finished aronia berry wine is crisp and dry with a beautiful dark maroon color. It retains the flavor of the berry.

The aronia berry wine is simple and uses the same equipment and basic knowledge discussed in my previous article “Foraging and Fermenting Wild American Grapes,” which can be found in the August 2016 issue of Omaha Magazine online. The same basic equipment used to make grape wine can be used for aronia berries.

It is essential to have a fermentation bucket, fermentation lock, and straining bag—all of which must be sanitized.

Plenty of berries, sugar, and other items are also necessary.

My recipe is modified from Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook’s cranberry recipe (the Blackberry recipe is also a solid option). The following makes one gallon of wine—or step up the quantities to make more:

  • 3 pounds aronia berries
  • 7 pints water (preferably not tap)
  • 2.5 pounds sugar
  • 0.5 teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 0.5 teaspoon yeast energizer
  • 1 Campden tablet (crushed)
  • 1 package wine yeast (EC-1118 yeast best tolerates the antioxidant-rich aronia berries)

Adding half a pint of red grape concentrate is preferable to some, but I like to let the aronia berries shine.

First, place washed, frozen berries in a straining bag in your fermenter. Mash and squeeze the thawing pulp in the fermenter. This would be difficult with fresh, firm berries. Tie the bag and leave it in the fermenter. Stir in all other ingredients except for yeast. Cover the fermenter. Twenty-four hours later, add the yeast and cover. Stir daily. When fermentation slows to a near standstill (after about five days), remove the straining bag and pulp. After about three more weeks, siphon the wine into a sanitized glass secondary fermenter. A hydrometer is useful for assessing the progress of fermentation. In about two months, if it is clear, bottle it.

A deep, red bottle of aronia berry wine is sure to be a memorable Christmas gift to anyone lucky enough to receive one. More importantly, there’s room in the freezer for that fall turkey.

See omahamagazine.com/articles/foraging-and-fermenting-wild-american-grapes for more information on basic winemaking with wild grapes. Visit fermenterssupply.com for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Home.