Fields of elderflower
I’m surrounded by creamy white flowers set against fronds of fresh green leaves; bush after bush; tree after tree – as far as I can see. Above me, glimpsed between gently waving branches, a few white clouds drifting against a serene blue. The dappled sunlight is soft and pale; small birds are calling and chirping as they hop through branches in search of some insect buffet; the grass beneath my feet is wet with the morning dew, while bees are foraging for nectar and pollen; a slight breeze is stirring the branches and carrying the scent of citrus, of honey, of floral, creamy, summery…….
Alas, I had been dreaming again, day-drifted off to an Elysian field of elderflowers: a wonder of nature for about 3 weeks each late spring.
In truth, I was having a field day, albeit scouting out a possible new site for growing elderflowers in a cold, bare paddock of grass, while the wind rattled around me annoyingly. But to my discerning eyes, this site has potential: good aspect, fertile soil, moist, reasonable drainage and good access to boot.
The thoughts of chief winemaker Richard Neil as he was having a literal and metaphorical field day scouting out sites in the countryside where elderflower could be grown.
But what is an elderflower? For those unaware, it is a bush like tree that produces white blossoms in May which then turn in to dark fruits. The trees are widespread across the UK and you will have definitely seen one in a park or hedgerow.
From uses in medicine to elderflower wine
Wonderfully, as a native species, elderflower encourages wildlife. But of course, they can also earn their keep – from fabulous elderflower cordials to what is commonly know as elderflower champagne, but for legal reasons we are required to refer to as elderflower sparkling wine. It is also very traditional in teas and tarts to liqueurs and cocktails (and even fried!) it is a vital ingredient in some stupendous dishes. Furthermore, elderflower can be used to ward off insects and has some sundry herbal uses, and then there are the berries later… we could espouse the wonders of elderflower all day – they’ve even been used since prehistoric times as a form of medicine!
Like all living things, elderflowers need nurturing in their infancy – protection from being eaten, water to stop them getting dry and keeping the weeds around them at bay. But after that – they are away! Feed them a couple of times a year, keep the grass down, trim them back every 2-3 years… and they’ll work like a dream! Otherwise, you can always dream a little, and get out into nature in early June/late May to forage for the flowers yourself – or why not enjoy a delicious glass of our elderflower sparkling wine which thanks to our process we can provide all year round!
Our first wine that we made was the pure elderflower, originating from a family recipe. This is a very traditional product and something a lot of people in the UK have grown up around with stories of a relatives exploding an airing cupboard (we might have had that mishap as well…)
Below is a guide for an elderflower sparkling wine recipe, although you are of course welcome to buy our elderflower wines as well.
The basics will mostly be things that can be found around the house with the rest easily available online:-
- A 10 litre food grade bucket
- Kitchen scales
- Measuring jug
- Tea towel
- A jelly bag (fine mesh bag) or other straining cloth)
- 2 x 5 litre screw top disposable plastic mineral water bottles (made of PET)
- A food processor
- A large sieve
- A funnel
- Closed top bottles for the finished elderflower wines
- The place you choose to make your home-made wines is also important and the more you can control the temperature the better, keeping a nice stable temperature. You will want to check what temperature the yeast you have works best at but a stable temperature around 15-20C is likely to produce the best results.
- Ideally a well-ventilated space is best as fermentation can be smelly.
- The yeasts change sugar into ethyl alcohol, some glycerol, a little acetic acid and small amounts of 100s of other compounds. The temperature affects the balance of the outcome. With the addition of time, (and pressure for your elderflower sparkling wine) some of the alcohol reacts with various acids present to form esters providing additional taste and smell. Some of the initial acids change into others. Body for the wine comes from glycerol, alcohol, remaining sugars, tannins and minerals.
- the snipped off, with scissors, florets from 20 freshly picked elderflower heads (200g including the stalks)
- 940g sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 10ml white vinegar
- water to make up to total 4.5L
- a packet (5g) of champagne yeast (e.g. Lalvin EC1118),
- yeast nutrient (according to the supplier’s instructions). We suggest Tronozymol.
- Start the yeast (according to the supplier’s instructions).
- Meanwhile combine the remaining ingredients in a clean food grade 10L bucket in the coolest part of your house (as long as the temperature is over 10C). Add the activated yeast and cover with a cloth/ tea towel.
- Stir to break up the cap of floating flowers once a day, or you can float a plate on top. Stir up any undissolved sugar until it disappears in the first 2-3 days. Take a hydrometer reading every day or three. With temperatures of 20C or more it may be ready in under a week. Around 10C it can take a month or more. When the reading gets to 1.010 its time to bottle.
- So, now strain through a jelly bag into bottles and store upright at 10- 15C if you can for a week or two (no longer). Screw top plastic bottles with the lids only lightly closed are good. Swing top glass bottles are an alternative.
- Before serving chill upright for a couple of days. Serve chilled, in flute glasses, leaving the yeast sediment undisturbed in the bottom.
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