A brief history of fruit wine
The spread of grapes historically was limited to much warmer climes and before the advent of global trade it was not so easy to get hold of an Argentinian Malbec or even a French Bordeaux!
The solution our ancestors in chillier countries came up with was to use ingredients that were available and people have been fermenting fruit wines for thousands of years. This was not limited to places that could not grow grapes with there being records of the Ancient Greeks making wines out of flowers and there is a long history in Japan for plum wine.
The rationing during the second world war gave rise to a new wave of wine making in the UK, with parsnip wine proving a particularly popular version (it really is surprisingly good).
What are fruit wines?
At Renegade and Longton, we are exploring a little further to see all the types of fruit wine that it is possible to make. Providing our own take on what British wine can be.
Fruit wines we have experimented with so far include: the previously mentioned Parsnip wine, which really is much better than you would expect; a strawberry and black pepper sparkling wine; a gin inspired cucumber and juniper sparkling wine, as well as many other different flavour combinations! We normally have more than 100 different micro-fermentations taking place at one time.
Starting with an elderflower wine recipe
Our first fruit wine that we had ready to sell is the elderflower sparkling wine, originating from an old family recipe. This is a very traditional product and something a lot of people in the UK have grown up around (referring to it as elderflower champagne) with stories of a relative exploding an airing cupboard, we might have had that mishap as well…
We use the flower of the tree to create the wine and this is what is used to create all elderflower flavoured products be it a gin, cake or cordial.
Elderflower is a bush-like tree that produces white blossoms in May which then turn into dark fruits. It grows in temperate climates and is found all across the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Northern Europe and has been used for hundreds/thousands of years to make syrups, medicines and a variety of different alcohols. It tastes very floral and is most commonly used in cordial.
What is Fruit wine called?
There are a considerably number of restrictions around the names of wines and sparkling wines, with certain areas or styles having protected status. For example, in the UK the term English sparkling wine is protected but British bubbles is not. This presents a problem for any wine that is made from something other than grapes, as technically it cannot be called a wine, even if you would refer to a parsnip wine as a wine.
In Europe there is a general requirement if grapes are not used in a wine for it to be referred to as either ‘a made wine’ or ‘a fruit wine’. So while our elderflower sparkling wines could technically be called a fruit wine, we prefer to simply call it an elderflower sparkling wine and so far the authorities seem happy enough with our description.
Despite all these complications over naming a fruit wine it is still taxed the same as a traditional sparkling wine or wine. The tax is due in proportion to the alcohol content of the fruit wine which can range from 8% to 14%.
From rhubarb wine to parsnip wine and everything in between
A grape possesses all the key aspects for making wine in one package, however, by adding key nutrients to other ingredients you can make a wine with any ingredient that you can ferment, including fruits, herbs and spices.
The alcohol content of a fruit wine is also completely up to the maker as with a grape wine you can ferment it to a higher ABV with a higher sugar content.
To be classified as a ‘made wine’ or ‘fruit wine’ essentially all that is required is that the product be made in the same way as a wine. With that in mind you can make a ‘fruit wine’ or ‘made wine’ out of anything.
We have had some very interesting experiments with different fruits, herbs, spices and the occasional vegetable, often with surprising results! To begin the fermentation required to make fruit wine all you need Is yeast and sugar (often the fruit itself will have enough sugar to get this going). Depending on the ingredient you may need to add water as well.
Of course all these experiments require sampling, sometimes we wonder why we do this…… From our research we understand that all across the UK people are making their own fruit wines and very unique forms of British bubbles using a variety of different ingredients from an overgrown rhubarb patch to a particularly generous raspberry harvest you can make wine out of any spare fruit that you have, see our recipe for rhubarb wine.
It is also easy enough to convert this to a sparkling fruit wine by going through a secondary fermentation in the bottle (although beware pressure build up). All you need to do is add a little more sugar and yeast and you should be able to create natural British bubbles.
Future for fruit wine
There looks to be an exciting future for different types of fruit wine if the UK alcohol market is anything to go by. The movement is towards new and exciting flavours with different ingredients and stories.
There is even a French company now making fruit sparkling wines with flavours including raspberry, cherry and red currant. So expect to see more and more types of fruit wines and British bubbles on your shelves, hopefully even a parsnip wine!
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