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Elderflower Wine and Elderflower Champagne

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It is nearly that time of year again when the Elderflowers start to bloom and people want to make "Elderflower Wine" and "Elderflower Champagne". If you have made wine before, it is relatively straightforward to make both of these varieties, but many online (and TV) guides suggest that it is really easy to do it without any experience, equipment or common sense.

One of the best known recipes/methods is the one advocated in the episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "River Cottage", in which he makes "Elderflower Champagne". As Hugh likes everything to be as organic and natural as possible, and is limited by the length of the time slots for each segment within his show, his recipe and method has a habit of producing varying results and exploding bottles...

One of the big issues with this wine is that many people like to use the natural yeast that is present on the elderflowers to initiate the fermentation. This is fine provided that the flowers have been picked on a nice dry day and there is lots of yeast on them. If they are picked on a damp day, or following a period of rainfall, there may be very little natural yeast present and as a result the fermentation may be slow to non-existent. There is also no way of know what strain of yeast you are using or how it will behave. For this reason, many people prefer to take a slightly more interventionist approach and control of the process rather than trusting to luck.

If you have never made wine at all before, it might be worth starting with a wine kit as this will allow you to learn the techniques of fermentation and processing without having to fret about balancing the mixture and getting the initial "Must" settings right.

These are general guidelines, not "hard and fast" rules and all the timings are subject to change depending upon which yeast you use, how much sugar is present and how warm/cold it is.

Even if you do, your yeast won't read these instructions and will do exactly what it wants to do in its own timeframe !

Ingredients:

5-10 Elderflowers Blossoms depending on how strong a flavour you like (or 15g of dried flowers)
700-1000g sugar depending on how strong an alcoholic drink you want to produce
The juice of 3 Lemons (or 3 teaspoons of Citric Acid)
1/4 teaspoon of Wine Tannin
1 Packet of "Champagne Style" Yeast - now called "Sparkling" wine yeast to comply with EU regulations (If you use a different yeast, you will almost certainly get a different result)
1 teaspoon of Yeast Nutrient
1 crushed Campden Tablet
1 Gallon of water.
140ml White Grape Concentrate or 250g chopped raisins (Optional ingredient)

Method:

  1. Clean, sterilise and rinse a 10ltr polythene bucket.
  2. Trim the flowers from the stems and put them into the bucket.
  3. Boil 4 litres of the water and pour over the flowers.
  4. Add the crushed campden tablet and leave for 24 hours for the natural yeast to be destroyed.
  5. Boil 1 litres of water and dissolve the sugar. 700g will produce about 7-8% alcohol, 1kg will produce about 10-11% alcohol.
  6. Add the sugar solution, lemon juice (or citric acid) and the tannin. Made this way, the wine and champagne will be very light bodied. If you prefer a richer bodied wine, add the concentrate or raisins at this point.
  7. Check that the temperature of the mix is between 18°and 24°C and add the yeast and yeast nutrient.
  8. Use a hydrometer to take the gravity reading and make a note of it so that you can later calculate the approximate alcohol content.
  9. Cover* and leave in a warm place to ferment for 4-5 days.
  10. Strain the mixture through a muslin bag or nylon straining bag into a demijohn and check the gravity.
  11. Decide whether you are planning on making Elderflower Wine or "Elderflower Champgne" and then follow the appropriate instructions below.

*If your bucket has an "airtight lid", you will need to either fit an airlock or loosely fit the lid in order to let the CO2 escape, or risk having the lid being blown off as the pressure increases. Older recipes suggest covering the bucket with a clean (sometimes damp) cloth or tea towel. The choice is yours.

Elderflower Wine:

If you are making elderflower wine, you would fit an airlock to the demijohn and leave it to ferment until completely finished and displaying a gravity reading of 994-998 for two consecutive days when checked with a hydrometer. Depending on the ambient temperature and the amount, and type, of yeast present, this can take anything from a few days to several weeks and will produce a dry wine. If you would prefer a sweet wine, you should monitor the gravity until it reaches 1004-1008 and then add a crushed campden tablet. This will kill the yeast and leave some unfermented sugar in the wine as sweetness. Alternatively, you could ferment it until dry (which would give more alcohol) and then sweeten it using a non-fermenting artificial sweetener such as Sorbitol.

As soon as fermentation has completely finished, syphon it into a clean demijohn, seal with an airlock and leave it in a cool place to clear before bottling. It may take a while to clear, depending on the ambient temperature, but once it is clear, you should syphon it off the sediment and into your bottles.

Elderflower Champagne:

When making "Elderflower Champagne", you still ferment the wine in the demijohn but, as you need to create a fizz in the bottle, a slightly different method is adopted as you approach the end of the fermentation period.

Some methods/recipes advocate that you bottle the fermenting wine before it reaches the end of fermentation and then allow the fermentation to complete in the bottle. This is absolutely fine provided that you limit the amount of sugar being fermented in the bottle to a minimum and you use suitably strong bottles However, because of the differing rates of fermentation that can result from varying strains of yeast and ambient temperature, stating that the wine is safe to bottle after 4-6 days in the primary fermentation bucket isn't always accurate and can lead to exploding bottles unless you release some of the pressure each day by opening the lid and allowing some of the built up CO2 to escape.

Using the unfermented sugar still present in your wine as the priming agent is a perfectly safe and acceptable method of generating the fizz providing that you approach the process from a position of knowledge and exercise proper caution. The easiest way to do this is to measure the gravity with a hydrometer and bottle it when the fermentation in the demijohn has slowed down and the hydrometer reading is around 1004-1008. If you are bottling in Grolsch type bottles or champagne bottles then the lower figure is probably more appropriate whereas the higher reading is acceptable if using plastic PET bottles as these are designed to withstand a greater pressure.

A more reliable method is to wait until the fermentation has abated and the hydrometer reading has dropped below 1000 (preferably in the 994-998 range and stable for two consecutive days) and then bottle the wine into bottles that have been primed with granulated sugar at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon per pint/500ml of the total capacity of the bottle. If you exceed this rate, the wine will be much fizzier. It is safer to use a dedicated measuring spoon, rather than guess with a "normal" teaspoon, or to make up a syrup solution of 20g of sugar in 60ml of warm water and then distribute it evenly amongst your bottles. (20g should be suffiecient to prime 1 gallon/6 standard size bottles but you may need to make up 80ml of syrup if using 8*1 pint beer bottles as it will be easier to split - especially if you use a 10ml syringe to add it to each bottle)

The finished "champagne" will be quite dry, so you will need to sweeten it to taste with a non fermenting sugar if you prefer a sweeter "champagne". For this you can use a wine sweetener such as Sorbitol, a non-fermenting sugar such as Lactose or any proprietary artificial sweetener. I would normally taste the champagne prior to bottling and adjust to taste at this point.

As the "elderflower champagne" clears, which can take a few weeks depending on the temperature, it will deposit a layer of yeast sediment on the base of the bottle. Care should be taken to avoid disturbing this when you open the bottle and start to pour the wine. If you are using one of the larger 2ltr PET bottles to store it, you may need to decant the whole bottle into a suitable jug and then dispense it from there. Chilling it to serving temperature should minimise the disturbance, but if it gets too cold, you may find that the sudden release of pressure when you open it causes the dissolved CO2 to expand rapidly and cause both a "foam over" of volcanic proportions and drag the sediment up from the bottom of the bottle.

If you have access to a ready supply of traditional champagne or cava bottles and are keen to have truly clear wine, you could always make use of the hollow champagne caps and cages and remove the sediment before serving. At the bottling stage, one of the plastic caps is inserted into the bottle and secured with a cage. The bottle is then turned upside down so that the sediment present in the bottle sinks into the hollow in the cap. When the wine is completely clear, the neck of the bottle is inserted into a bucket of salted, icy water. This should cause a plug of ice to form in the neck of the bottle. The plastic cork can now be removed and replaced with a clean one and a new cage. The ice plug in the neck of the bottle will eventually melt, leaving you with crystal clear, fizzy "elderflower champagne".

You can download a copy of these instructions by clicking HERE

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Comments

  1. Mei

    Hello! I have just racked my elderflower wine and as I tasted it, it was quite bitter. Should I sweeten it? and if so, how would I go about it? Thanks, Mei --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Mei, Basically, it depends on what you are actually tasting: If it is "dryness", you could sweeten it to taste with either artificial sweetner or standard sugar (provided you have added Campden Tablets/Fermentation Stopper to ensure there is no secondary fermentation). Alternatively, you could add a little lemonade to make a "spritzer" type drink and this would also sweeten it. If it is "acidity", you would need to check the pH level with pH indicater strips and then add Preciptated Chalk to reduce the acidity to between 3.1 and 3.4. If it is "sourness", then it's likely that it has become oxidised in which case there is basically no saving it. Andy

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  2. BEANIE

    Hi. Excellent info thank you! Can you use campden tablets for sparkling wine as well to clear it up or do you just use it in wine? And if so when should I add it? Thank you! ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Hi Beanie, If you put in Campden Tablets, which are used as an anti-oxidant to help preserve the wine, you are likely to kill (or, at the very least, seriously inhibit) the yeast and run the risk of getting no secondary fermentation.

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  3. Rob

    A really great guide thank you! I couldn't decide which way to jump sparkling or not.. In the end I have siphoned off about 6 bottles (I made 5 gallons) into old champagne bottles and added a campden tablet to the remainder of the brew. The hydrometer reading was well below 1000. Will my sparkling bottles be safe from explosions (I followed your instructions for priming the bottles with sugar) currently I have them hidden out on the bike shed for safety? Also I noticed whilst delicious and hugely fragrant the wine was very very dry and I had no sweetener to add at the time. Do you think if I attempt to freeze the bottles later (to remove the sediment from the hollow plastic champagne corks) I will be able to sweeten the wine (whilst still frozen) before replacing a fresh cork? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Hi Rob, If your gravity has gone below 1000 and you have stuck to just 1/2 teaspoon per bottle, you should be safe from explosions. With regard to the freezing/sweetening, I would point out that you are not trying to freeze the whole bottle, just a small plug of wine in the neck of the bottle so that the liquid below the plug stays in the bottle whilst you remove the hollow champagne cork and the sediment that has accumulated in it. As such, there will not really be an opportunity at this stage to "back sweeten" the wine, unless you attempted to put the sweetening sugar into the replacement cork and then mixed it in after the plug had defrosted. However, there would still be likely to be some microscopic yeast particles present, so if you then left this bottle to mature for an extended period, there is always the chance that the remaining yeast would ferment the extra sugar and throw another layer of yeast sediment on the bottle of the bottle (Its pretty determined stuff, yeast....). Obviously, this wouldn't happen if you were introducing artificial sweetener, but that depends on whether you are happy to use any of the current range of AS products. You could add a dash of lemonade during serving as this would both sweeten the wine and slightly reduce the alcohol level at the same time.

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  4. Jeff Smart

    I'd just like to convey my thanks for what is a truly helpful and informative resource. Great stuff. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thanks Jeff, I'm glad you found it helpful

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  5. denise

    Fantastic info what is final alcohol rating at a reading of approx under 1000 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Denise, It depends on what your start gravity was. As a rough guide it will be the total gravity drop divided by 7.5, so if you start at 1075 and get down to 1000, you've had a 75 point gravity drop and your alcohol content will be approximately 75/7.5=10% If you want to be completely accurate with your ABV calculation, you have to divide the gravity drop by 7.362, so in the above example, your 75 point drop would give you an ABV of 75/7.362=10.187%, but what's 0.187% amongst friends? (unless you're having more than a couple of bottles, in which case the extra 0.187% isn't likely to be the major cause of any headaches you end up with....) Andy

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  6. Duncan McRae

    Hi! just want to thank you for this excellent resource! Really great stuff. chin chin! -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Duncan, Thanks for the kind words. Glad you found it useful Andy

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  7. Mei

    Hi, after adding the yeast and nutrient to the elderflower wine, do I simply leave it? or give it a turn every now and then? Thanks, Mei ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Mei, In most instances, I would normally just leave it alone and let it ferment, but there are some people who would give it a gentle stir every day to ensure that the elderflower petals are continually infused and give a stronger flavour, rather than just be left to float up to the surface. Ultimately, it's down to personal preference. Andy

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  8. Tara

    Hi Andy, went to put wine into demijohn today on day 5 and checked hydrometer reading and it?s come up at 990... day 4 it was still bubbling like crazy, so given it till day 5 before moving it over. But now it?s all stopped. Is 990 too late? Also if it is ok I'll bottle it tomorrow, but how long before it is drinkable? Thanks Tara ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- HI Tara, The answer to most questions in brewing and winemaking start with the words "It Depends" and that is the case here. "Is it too late".... 1) If you are going for "still wine", now is the time to rack it off the sediment and add the Campden Tablets and Potassium Sorbate to stabilise it and prevent any further fermentation whilst it clears and matures. 2) If you are going for "Champagne style" wine, then now is the time to bottle it and add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar per pint to get the secondary fermentation. "How long before it is drinkable".... Depends whether you want it clear and are fussy about how it looks/tastes. Most people drink Elderflower Cordial pretty quickly and whilst still cloudy and there is no reason why you can't drink your wine more or less straight away, but Cordial doesn't generally have masses of yeast in it, so it may be better to wait a while to let it clear. (Added to which some people can experience unpleasant gastric episodes if they take in too much yeast in one go from uncleared wines .....) Personally I generally prefer my wines to be clear, so I would tend to leave both of them for as long as it takes to clear. You can speed up the process by adding "Finings" (quick clearing agents that you can locate in the "Ingredients" section of our website) to your demijohn or bottles with the priming sugar if you are going for "fizzy", but generally you can leave it for as long or as short a time as you are prepared to wait. Andy

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  9. Andy

    Made 4 litres last year that had a lovely colour tasted great and so going for a 20 litre batch this year. Thanks for a great recipe. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Thanks for the kind words Andy, glad you found the recipe useful and successful.

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  10. Bill McCreadie

    Can you run the fermented liquour through a standard wine filter before bottling and adding priming sugar? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Hi Bill, You could, but you run the risk of removing ALL the yeast so instead of getting "fizz", you could just end up sweetening a still wine. Andy

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  11. Holly

    Hi Andy! My 'champagne' has cleared beautifully and the bottles became quite firm with some gas definitely produced but it's not really fizzy at all :-( the wine tastes nice and is drinkable and I don't think anymore gas will be made (bottles very rigid but not getting moreso). They've been in a warmish kitchen for a week or so and then chilled in fridge overnight. Any clues about what I've done wrong please? I waited until fermentation was over and then used 500ml PET bottles with 1/2 tsp granulated sugar in each. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Holly, It doesn't sound as though you have done anything "wrong", just that you have found that carbonation is always a difficult thing to control. Bottle the wine too early or add too much sugar and you end up with bombs, bottle it late and there isn't much yeast present so it takes longer to convert the priming sugar. Have too much CO2 and you risk a "volcano" when you open the bottle, which will pull the sediment off the base of the bottle, or chill it too much and you risk the CO2 being reabsorbed into the wine. That's why the people that have been doing it for 400 years can charge £20+ per bottle !!! Bear in mind, it's barely a week since you bottled the wine, so the fact that you are feeling "hardness" within the bottles means that it has generated a resaonable amount of CO2 already. When brewers normally bottle condition a beer, it usually takes at least 2 weeks for it to clear and become carbonated, and may well take much longer if you have let a lot of the yeast sediment out before bottling (which you will have done if it got down to 994-998). I would just be inclined to leave it alone and let it continue to mature. This is the downside of making your own - it takes longer than buying it, requires a lot of patience and will generally be variable from year to year, no matter how closely you try to control it, simply because the yeast is a living organism and does exactly what IT wants, rather than what YOU want it to do. If your wine/champagne is clear, tasty, cool and slightly fizzy, I'd be inclined to call that a successful first attempt and look forward with anticipation to making a bigger batch next year. Andy

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  12. Holly

    Hi Andy, that's awesome, thanks so much! I really appreciate your speedy answer. :-)

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  13. Holly

    Hi Andy! First of all, thanks so much for your helpful, detailed recipe! This is my first time brewing anything and am really excited by it all. :-) I am making champagne (as opposed to wine) and have strained the mixture and am waiting for a 994 - 998 reading before bottling as you suggest. I will be using 500ml PET bottles with half a teaspoon of sugar as in your instructions. I just have two quick questions please: - when I bottle it, should I be aiming to leave behind the sediment at the bottom? - how long does it usually take to get fizzy (ie. how long do you usually have to wait before drinking)? I guess this varies somewhat so maybe we just wait until it has cleared somewhat? I'm sorry for the silly questions but thanks so much for your help. I'm going to get a second batch on the go before the elderflowers disappear! - Holly ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Holly, You want to try and leave almost all of the main yeast sediment behind in the demijohn. There will ususally be enough yeast cells still held in suspension to ferment the priming sugar once you have placed it into the bottles. This remaining yeast sediment will USUALLY settle out on the base of the bottles as the "champagne" clears, and you will need to be careful not to disturb it whilst pouring your Champagne, otherwise it will make the wine look cloudy in the glass. In terms of how long it takes to get fizzy and clear, - "It Depends" Warm temperatures (above 24°C ) tend to produce CO2 much faster but then cause the wine to take longer to clear. Cooler temperatures (below 18°C) cause the yeast to take longer to produce the CO2 but promote faster clearing, but can cause other problems if the temperature is TOO low. As you are using PET bottles, you can squeeze the bottles on a daily basis to check if/how much pressure is being produced and you can look through them against a bright background to check whether the sediment has dropped out of solution and is lining the bottom of the bottle. Andy

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  14. Anna Hainsworth

    Thanks for that. The lid isn't too tight, when I press on it gas comes out and it isn't getting too taut so I don't think pressure is building up. I'll keep an eye on it though. I've had a closer look and I think what was a bloom may just be lots of bits of flowers and lemony bits sitting on the surface. There doesn't look to be a film of any kind on it. Should I taste it before I put it in the demi-john to check its alright? Thanks again. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Anna, I always like to have a sneaky taste throughout all my brewing processes - just to make sure everything is going according to plan of course.

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  15. Anna Hainsworth

    Hello I'm very new to this and have tried following the recipe above. My elderflower champagne is currently in a container with a close fitting lid (with no airlock fitted). I've seen other recipes which just have a tea towel or muslin over the container and also read that air helps the fermentation process. Should I take the lid off, open it a little or keep it on? I thought I was keeping out bugs in the air but am now confused! It appears to be doing something as there are occasional bubbles and a sort of white bloom on the surface, along with the elderflowers. Thanks for your help. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Anna, If you have a tight fitting lid, unless you just "lie" the lid on without fully sealing it, you will generally need an airlock to relieve the pressure or face the risk of the lid being blown off as the pressure increases. Some recipes suggest using a cloth/teatowel to cover the "fermentation vessel", but that is usually becasue they are from historic recipes that would have advocated using a bucket or pail (ie without a lid) as the fermentation vessel. Sadly there is such a proliferation of conflicting informtaion available these days that it is hard to decide what to do unless you choose one recipe/procedure and stick to that and only change it on the next batch if you fancy trying a different method/recipe. NEVER, EVER, be tempted to "Mix and Match".... If the "White Bloom" is just a very fine layer of bubles, then I wouldn't worry too much, but if it is like a white film, like opaque cling film or super thin rice paper, I would be inclined to remove it immediately and transfer the must to a demijohn (under an airlock) as it is likely to be an infection and could ruin your wine.

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  16. Valerie roberts

    Thanks Andy, I'm getting there

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  17. Valerie Roberts

    Hi Andy, Can I use beer bottles to contain my elderflower champagne. I have a topper gadget to make them airtight. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Valerie. I've never tried using beer bottles, though there SHOULD be no real reason why you couldn't as long as you have completed the primary fermentation and are re-priming using the 1/2 teaspoon per pint priming method, rather than bottling before fermentation has completely finished. In the first case you have a known, measured amount of priming sugar so should have a "controlled" secondary ferment whereas the second case might produce unpredictable results. It would, of course, have to be in bottles that had already been used to store carbonated beers, so any that had used "still cider" for example may not be suitable and could possibly explode. You will, however, end up with sediment in the bottles and may end up disturbing this when the bottle is opened and poured, unless you pour the "champagne" in one smooth movement into a large enough glass or jug and then redistribute it from there. Regards Andy

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  18. Grug

    Hi Andy. I'm new to making wine and I have attempted to make elderflower wine. It has been in a demi john fitted with an air lock for 3 months now. It is still very cloudy, so I am unsure whether I should rack at this point, or allow it to clear first. Also, I tasted a sample and it tastes of vinegar! Does this mean it's spoiled, or just unfinished? Thanks, Grug.

    --------------------------------------------------------------

    Hi Grug,

    If you added citric acid as part of your recipe, it could be that it is this giving the acidic taste, especially if you were a little heavy handed. If not it could be infected.

    All country wines are potentially unpredictable due to the nature of the basic ingredients and even wines made from the same ingredient at the same time can produce different results. Some clear quickly, some dont clear at all. If you search the net for pictures of elderflower wine, you can see the variety that is available....

    If yours already has a thick layer of yeast sediment and the gravity is where you expect it to be, I would be inclined to rack it into a clean demijohn and add a crushed Campden tablet to kill the yeast and avoid oxidation. Once you have done this, I would be inclined to test it with a pH strip. If the pH is above 3.1, I would add some precipitated chalk to see if it can be rescued. Assuming that the flavour is acceptable to you once you've sorted out the acidity, you can drink it cloudy if it refuses to drop clear. You could also try putting a clearing agent into it, but you will need to be careful which you choose if you are vegetarian. (Bentonite is clay based, all others are animal based)

    Regards,

    Andy

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  19. Lucy

    Hi Andy, So this has been my first time making elderflower champagne which I made using your easy to follow recipe (thank you!) and so far so good.....I think!

    I bottled it in 750ml glass swing top bottles a few days ago and compared to all the activity I had in the Demijohn it's now just looking completely still and cloudy. Is this normal?

    I got a bit impatient/curious today and popped a bottle open and much to my surprise it POPPED and there was lots of fizz! I'm now worried I may have released all of the bubbles and when I come to drink it in a couple of months it will be completely flat? I hope I haven't ruined things! My other question is the 'shelf life' of the champagne. How long can I leave it for un-opened? Thank you so much for such a wonderful website, I've thoroughly enjoyed it, Lucy

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Hi Lucy,

    Thank you for your kind words, I'm glad you found the process easy to follow.

    When you have the mixture in the demijohn, there is a lot of sugar available for the yeast to ferment, so the activity is always very vigorous and produces far too much gas for a bottle to cope with. This is why it is best to allow all the "initial" gas to escape and then promote a "controlled" fermentation in the bottle to provide the fizz to the finished wine.

    When you first transfer the wine into your bottles and add the sugar, it will be cloudy as the yeast is still held in suspension, though this normally drops out and forms a sediment on the base of the wine over time. Unfortunately, this takes longer when the ambient temperature is higher, and our recent late summer warm spell has probably not helped your efforts. if you can move it to somewhere slightly below room temperature, ideally 15°-18°C, it should start to clear. Very occasionally, the yeast refuses to drop completely and your wine remains slightly cloudy, but if it does, whilst it is disappointing, you should still be able to drink the wine without it being too impaired.

    As the yeast hasn't settled yet, it should recover from being opened, but you can always add an extra small amount of sugar to recarbonate it - though i would only add a maximum of about 1/4 teaspoon per pint rather than the 1/2 teaspoon you would have initially used.

    The shelf life of the wine is difficult to predict as it depends on many factors including storage temperature and access to light and, whilst the wine is bottled when clear and will last for extended period (12-18 months at least), Elderflower Champagne is usually made to be drunk as soon as it is clear. It may well last 3-6 months, as bottled conditioned beers do, but may also start to pick up slight taints from the yeast cake deposited on the bottom of the bottle. I do, however, know of winemakers that make the Champagne in the spring and lay a couple of bottles down for Christmas and New Year, so 6-9 months appears to be routinely achievable.

    Andy

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  20. Pieter Thyssen

    Hello again! I'm afraid I made a mistake while straining my mixture through a muslin bag today. After four days of primary fermentation, the bubbling in my airlock had decreased significantly. I wanted to strain the mixture into another bucket, and then rack it into a glass vessel for the secondary fermentation. However, before straining, I stirred the entire mixture thoroughly, thus mixing in all the lees which had collected on the bottom of the bucket. As a result, I now have a very cloudy liquid in my secondary fermentation vessel with all the lees from the primary fermentation still present. I only now read that the aim of racking into a secondary is to leave the lees behind, since the lees can impart off-flavourts to the brew. Stupid me! On the other hand, I also read that there are methods of making Champagne where the brew is left in contact with the lees for a prolonged time ("sur lie"). So I'm wondering 1. whether I made a big mistake or not really, 2. whether the lees will settle again in my secondary (and how long this will take) or if the cloudiness will remain, and 3. whether I will have to rack a second time before bottling to get clear elderflower champagne or not. Thank you so much for your help! I'm happy to learn! Pieter

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hi Pieter

    Stirring up the lees won't necessarily be the end of the world, but you will have to leave it quite a while to settle out and drop clear again before transferring to bottles.

    Whilst makers of "Real Champagne" may leave their grape juice based wine on the lees (and occasionally on the Grape Skins) to mature prior to bottling, it's not normally a wonderful idea for "Elderflower Champagne" and as such it is generally a beter idea to get it off the sediment as soon as it has dropped out and the main part of fermentation has finished.

    You could, feasibly, encourage it to drop more quickly by adding finings, but then you run the risk of taking all the yeast out of solution and having none left to undertake the secondary fermentation in the bottles that provides the "fizz".

    It will eventually drop clear in the bottles, but, depending whether or not you are using "champagne bottles" and hollow corks, you may end up with sediment in the bottom of your bottles and this may be disturbed when you open the bottle and the initial pressure releases.

    Andy

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  21. Dave Id

    Hi all , just a quicky as to another cause of the elderflower juice turning black ( ref Elans comments ) . One likely cause could be the remnants of honeydew liquid ( the ants reward for marshalling the black bean aphid , or blackfly ) being accidently introduced to it . These are a common pest that can almost destroy an elder tree , mostly by the various bacterial diseases left behind and by the sap they remove . Hope this helps . -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the suggestion. Would it be the honeydew itself (which I thought was mostly colourless) or a type of Sooty Mold (which would normally be pretty visible)?

    If honeydew is the cause, is there anything that can be done to cure it, or is it simply a case of throwing the batch?/

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  22. Pieter Thyssen

    Hi Andy!

    Thanks a million for this wonderfully scientific recipe. This is exactly what I was looking for! And I can't wait to make my first batch of elderflower champagne next week.

    However, I was wondering why 700 g of sugar will produce about 7-8% alcohol, and 1 kg about 10-11% alcohol. I usually use the following formula:

    Sucrose needed (in g) = Amount of wine (in L) x Alcoholic content (in %) x 16

    Since you're making approximately 5 L of champagne, my formula yields for:

    7% alcohol 5 L x 7% x 16 = 560 g sucrose
    8% alcohol 5 L x 8% x 16 = 640 g sucrose
    9% alcohol 5 L x 9% x 16 = 720 g sucrose
    10% alcohol 5 L x 10% x 16 = 800 g sucrose
    11% alcohol 5 L x 11% x 16 = 880 g sucrose

    Since these values are significantly lower than the ones you are using, and I don't want to have exploding bottles or huge champagne fountains, I first wanted to check with you.

    Thank you so much for your help!

    Have a wonderful day,

    Pieter

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Hi Pieter,

    Your calculations are probably more accurate in terms of the final alcohol content. I was simply providing an approximation and allowing for the fact that not everybody will ferment all of the sugar to dryness (especially if making wine rather than "Champagne"), may not necessarily use Champagne yeast and instead use a yeast with a lower alcohol tolerance and may incorporate other forms of sugar rather than use sucrose.

    The starting amount of sugar will, however, only really affect the alcoholic strength and not the final carbonation levels if you follow the process as described. Providing that you either ferment to dryness and then add a MEASURED dose of priming sugar to each bottle, or transfer the wine when it get to around 1004 and don't add ANY extra priming sugar, you should be safe. This does, of course, assume that you are using appropriate "Champagne" style bottles to undertake the secondary ferment as these are much stronger than standard wine bottles and will withstand the pressure formed during the secondary fermentation.

    Andy

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  23. Alex Ward

    Hi I am a big fan of Elder Flower champagne. I was wondering, is it possible to put the Elder Flower champagne in a barrel after fermentation rather than bottles. Thank you. -----------------------------------------------------------

    Hi Alex,

    You can put it in a barrel, but if you do, the champagne won't actually be fizzy as the CO2 generated will sit above the wine and provide dispensing pressure, rather than carbonating the wine.

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  24. Dave

    Hi. I've just looked in on your page about elderflower sparking champagne. If I wanted to make 5 gallons do I times all by five parts not yeast? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hi Dave. As the recipe is based on making just 1 gallon of "Elderflower Champagne", you would need to increase all of the ingredient in the "must" (the sugary liquid just prior to the addition of the yeast) by a factor of five to make it up to 5 gallons. However, the standard 6g pack of "Sparkling Wine Yeast" contains sufficient yeast to ferment up to 5 gallons so you wouldn't really need to increase the yeast in the primary fermenter unless you wanted to ensure a faster fermentation. Also, despite having 5 times as much in the primary fermenter, you would still generally only store it in 750ml bottles (unless you are using Magnums or Jeroboams) and you would continue to use 1/2 teaspoon of sugar per pint/500ml in order to "prime" the bottles and provide the secondary carbonation.

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  25. Nick

    Hi Thanks for the recipe / guide. I was thinking of adding some white grape concentrate to improve body and flavour. Do I need to reduce the quantity of sugar?

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    Hi Nick, It would probably better to reduce the amount of sugar you add, unless you want to increase the alcohol content as the grape concentrate would contain fermentable sugars and would thus raise the start gravity. The easiest way to do this is to add the Grape Concentrate before the sugar and only add enough sugar to get to your preferred start gravity.

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  26. Jono Astle

    Hello. I am 6 days into the process of making champagne. Should I remove the flowers and stems at any point before I siphon into bottles? I have heard that the presence of any stem can leave a bitter tasting product. Can I pass the liquid through muslin before bottling to take out any excess sediment or will this remove the yeast in the wine and prevent the primed bottles from permitting a secondary fermentation? Also, I am using 500ml cider bottles- will these be strong enough to withstand the secondary fermentation using the half teaspoon of sugar recommended or should I use slightly less? Thanks, Jono.

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    Hi Jono, The flowers should really be trimmed from the stems at the beginning as too long an exposure to to much of the greenery can change the colour of the wine/champagne and can potentially introduce a bitter flavour. The recipe suggests straining the mixture from a fermenting bin into a demijohn after the first 4-5 days, leaving it to finish fermenting and then later syphoning it into bottles when it has reached the stage that it needs to be, depending upon what you are making. By the time it has finished fermenting, a large amount of the yeast will already have dropped to the base of the demijohn, and the yeast still held in solution will produce the secondary fermentation if you are making "champagne". Muslin bags are unlikely to have a fine enough mesh to filter out this suspended yeast. Recycled commercial cider bottles vary in their thickness (and thus, strength) depending upon how much CO2 the cider manufacturers choose to inject into their product. If the ones you are using contained a very heavily carbonated cider, you should be alright, but the carbonation will also be affected by the amount of yeast present, so it may be worth storing the bottles somewhere "safe" in case too much pressure is produced.

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  27. Duncan

    Hey, great guide. Followed it as best as time allows with long work days with 6 days in fermenting bin (1000 sg) and 7 days in demijohn. Couple of questions. When I removed from the demi John to bottle I left the sediment in the demijohn behind. Is this ok? Second, when I bottled hydrometer reading was 990. It was dry so I sweetened. Is this reading too low? Will there be any yeast left to work on the sugar added to the bottles? Using green bottles so hard to see if they have cleared and bottles stored upside down so can't see in the cap. Approx how long does this take to clear from a level teaspoon of sugar? Thanks in advance

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    Hi Duncan, Leaving the bulk of the yeast behind in the demijohn will produce a clearer wine/champagne, but may reduce the amount of CO2 that is produced, especially if you have let it drop to 990 as the bulk of the yeast will have been removed. Unfortunately, country winemaking works at its own pace and isn't concerned with fitting in with people's working patterns, so the fact that it has dropped to 990 is probably a little too low and will continue to be dry unless sweetened with non fermenting sugar such as lactose or artificial sweetner. Assuming that the "green bottles" are champagne/cava bottles rather than standard wine bottles (which will possibly not be strong enough to survive a proper secondary fermentation), you would normally expect the yeast to have dropped within 2-3 weeks if stored at a temperature just below normal room temperature (15-18°C). I would, however be wary if you have used a full teaspoon per bottle rather than the 1/2 teaspoon suggested as you may well end up with too much carbonation.

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  28. Marese Highfield

    Hi, I am puzzled by my Elderflower wine. I made Elderflower fizz with really good result. However, I followed the wine recipe by a reputable country wine maker. Adding boiled water to lemons, sugar and elderflower heads. When cool I added the Camden and pectolase. 24 hrs later I added the yeast and left for 24 hrs, then stirred each day for 8 days. At this point fermentation had almost stopped? I strained the wine through muslin and then put into the demijohns and fitted an airlock. This was 4 days ago and I cannot see any fermentation and no rise in pressure? No movement in air lock? I really don't know what to do. Please help. Regards Marese

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    In order to have any idea what was happening, you would really need to check the Specific Gravity of your wine using a hydrometer. Because every recipe varies in its ingredients and the amount of sugar to be added, it is impossible to give a "hard and and fast rule" as to what the final gravity of your wine will be as it depends upon the start gravity and the alcohol tolerance of the yeast being used. Provided that your start gravity was around 1075-1085 and you used a standard commercial wine yeast, you would expect the wine to reach a finishing gravity of 995-1005. It could easily do this in 8 days if the temperature was warm. If, after transferring to a demijohn, the gravity remains stable at this level for 2 days, then you can consider that it has finished and proceed to the clearing/maturing stage. If your start gravity was higher than 1085, the finishing gravity may well be 1010 or above, in which case you will have sweet wine. Unless you can calculate the alcohol content and can be sure that it is below about 6-7% ABV there is no point trying to add "Restart" yeast directly to the must as the restart powder will probably be overwhelmed by the alcohol present.

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  29. helen

    Hi Andy, I have been reading with interest, thank you, as I have made (or attempted to) elderflower champagne first time this year. I used the simple ginger beer type recipe but after two days in the bucket no bubbles so I added wine yeast - it became v. active, after 4 days I bottled it in pop bottles and have 'burped' them every day for a week. All good. Tasted it- smells wonderfully of elderflowers but tasted horrid. It is still really yeasty and has beige yeast foam on top. I have since also learned that wine yeast needs more sugar than my recipe and your post helpfully suggests sorbitol which may make it more palatable. I am thinking that I maybe should let it ferment out and then secondary ferment with more sugar and then sorbitol if still needs sweetening. I would be grateful for your input. Also it is in pop bottles should I put back in bucket to ferment out or keep as it is in bottles? Helen

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    The foamy surface and yeasty taste are a result of the fermentation taking place in the pop bottles - which is why I don't suggest using that method and instead suggest making clear wine and then priming later once the foam and yeast residue has subsided. The addition of artificial sweeteners (such as sorbitol etc) will sweeten the wine but not add to the alcohol in any way as they do not contain fermentable sugars. Lactose will produce a similar effect if you want to use a natural sweetener as it too is non-fermentable. You could possibly return the whole lot to a demijohn to finish off, but you would need to be very careful not to introduce any air (by allowing it to splash) otherwise you risk causing it to oxidise and go stale.

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  30. Pauline

    Hi Andy, Great article, really helpful. I'm going to give this a go this year but am keen to try to produce a clear Champagne so will try the plastic cap catching the sediment. Please can you advise how long you would leave the neck of the bottle in the ice water to guarantee the plug of ice to form, and I'm also curious as to why the water should be salted? Many thanks

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    Other than saying "It needs to be there for as long as it takes the ice plug to form", it is virtually impossible to say how long to leave it in the ice mixture. I am led to believe that adding salt to the water causes it to freeze at a lower temperature so the water will remain colder and be able to take more heat away from the champagne, thus speeding up the freezing process of the plug in the neck of the bottle. (Though, as a non-scientist, I am not in a position to confirm this and it may be absolute twaddle and have no benefit at all)

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  31. Lucy

    Hi Andy, Great article, I have had all sorts of problems with elderflower champagne in the past so looking forward to trying it. Just wondering about the demijohn- is it best to use one with an airlock or is a regular bung ok? I have had exploding bottles in the past and was wondering if there is a chance the demijohn could explode too?! Lucy

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    During the fermentation in the demijohn, quite a lot of CO2 will be produced. If you do not let this escape via an airlock, it will lead to an increase in pressure until it reaches the point at which it will blow the bung out. Once this happens, air (and possibly worse) will get in and ruin the wine very quickly. Once fermentation has finished, if you are simply making wine you would add crushed Campden Tablet to stabilise the wine. It is then perfectly fine to seal the demijohn with a solid bung whilst it matures. If you are making Champagne you will need to transfer it to suitable bottles - preferably Champagne bottles (not wine bottles as they are not strong enough) and "prime" it as stated in the article. Exploding bottles only tend to occur if the wrong bottles have been used, it has been bottled too early or too much priming sugar has been added.

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  32. Greg Hayes

    Super article Andy, thanks. Very, very informative. It's will be my third year at making Elderflower Champagne but the first time at doing it a bit more scientifically. I've tried Hugh thingy m'bobbies recipe and it was ok but very sweet. My question is can I let the natural yeast ferment first then decant into another fermenter and continue the process with champagne yeast or is it pointless? Good advice on how to clarify the drink BtW. Greg

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    Hi Greg, There is nothing to stop you doing that, other than the fact that you will be at the mercy of the "natural yeast" and if there isn't any present, or it isn't very effective, you may not get completely predictable results. In view of the effort expended collecting and stripping the elderflowers, I would always recommend just using "proper" commercial yeast right from the start. Andy

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  33. David Winterburn

    Hi, thanks for the comprehensive article on making the Elderflower champagne, certainly the best step by step I've seen yet. A couple of questions though; you make mention that the finished champagne will be quite dry if your process if followed and recommend using a non fermenting sugar to obtain a sweeter champagne. Firstly is this sugar Sorbitol that you referred to above and at what stage in the process would I add it? The second question I have is; does the elderflower champagne have a shelf life once bottled?

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    Thank you for your kind comments. You can use any wine sweetener or non-fermenting sugar such as Sorbitol or Lactose, or any of the proprietary artificial sweeteners to sweeten the champagne. Though some winemakers add the sugar in syrup form following the removal of the yeast as a top up to replaces any lost liquid, I would normally suggest tasting the Champagne prior to bottling and adjusting the sweetness at that point. (I have amended the blog text to clarify this.) In terms of the keeping properties, once the champagne has cleared it will be ready for drinking and will improve if it can be left for at least a couple of weeks to mature. If you have cleared the yeast out of the bottle it will happily last upwards of 12 months. If there is yeast sediment in the bottle, you may end up with a slight "yeasty" taste if you leave it more than 6-9 months.

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  34. Robert

    Hello, I started mine last week with almost the same recipe. I have made some home made wine before and have struggled with it clearing, and also now concerned about this clearing. I have racked the wine into a demijohn today after 7 days in the fermenter and it looks cloudy. I probably could have left it in the fermenter as the gravity was only 1018. I plan to follow the rest of your guide with leaving it until fermentation is complete and maybe rack it a couple of times (if this is a good idea?) and then rack into a primed demijohn and bottle. My question is will the champagne be clear-ish at bottling or will it take weeks or months to clear in the bottles? To be honest I think I was a bit quick drinking the last stuff :-)Many thanks if you get chance to reply.

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    Even at the end of the main fermentation, there will still be yeast cells held in suspension and this will cause the wine or champagne to be cloudy until it finally settles. Racking it off the main sediment now (at 1018) will slow the fermentation down quite a bit, but is unlikely to create a major problem. When it reaches the finishing gravity, if you are making wine, I would be inclined to rack it into a clean DJ and wait for it to clear before bottling. If you are making champagne, you will need to bottle it whilst there is still some yeast in suspension, otherwise you will not get a secondary ferment in the bottle.

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  35. Elan

    Hello, I started champagne this morning and this liquid has turned almost black, will this be rectified with the added lemon juice or should I chuck it, also why would this happen? I used good hygiene and also the elderflower cordial I started today has not turned black, same flowers I picked this morning, in need of help. Dunno if I should just chuck the champagne ?

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    Hello Elan, I have never heard of this problem before and could find no reference in any of my books to Elderflower Wine or Elderflower Champagne turning black, so I did a bit of research and came across these articles: Elderflower Wine Disaster and Problems with Elderflower Wine and Champagne but not a lot else. It would appear to be fairly uncommon and not something that can be easily pinned down to a simple, standard cause. One of the commentators suggested that it could be a chemical reaction between the sulphur in the Campden tablets and any copper used during the process. Whilst there may not have been any copper utensils, there may have been some present in the water source and this could possibly have cause the problem. Depending upon where the Elderflowers were growing, it may be that they have absorbed high levels of atmospheric pollution, or, if they are alongside cultivated fields, they may have some residue from any pesticide spray that has been used by the farmer. It might just be that there is a natural reagent that has gotten onto the flowers or into your mix that is causing this. I did find some information on an American government site that suggests that high levels of manganese in water can produce a black colouration in tea and coffee, so perhaps this might cause a similar problem in elderflower wine, especially if you have already got alkalinity in the base must, resulting from adding insufficient citric acid? Without knowing what it is or what has caused it, my inclination would be to err on the side of caution and dump it and start again. Andy

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