Cherry wine is a beautifully sweet way to use up a bumper crop of fruit this summer.
Fresh cherries are a beautiful thing, but they won’t last long. Growing up in California, we’d gorge on pounds of them fresh every day in season, but still, there’s no end to the cherry harvests.
Not living in Vermont, we grow what’s known as “tart cherries” or “pie cherries” which are packed with cherry flavor. As their name suggests, they’re quite tart eaten out of hand.
They’re perfect for preserving, and they make an exceptional cherry wine. (Don’t worry, you can substitute any cherries in this recipe.)
Extracting Juice for Cherry Wine
Generally, when I’m making fruit wine, I let the sugar do the work of juicing the fruit. Just muddle the sugar together with the fruit and it’ll naturally draw the juice right out.
Start by mashing the fruit and sugar together with a potato masher (pitted or whole, no matter). Make sure it’s well mashed to open up the cherry skins. (Don’t use a food processor, damaging the pits will result in a bitter wine.)
Allow the fruit to macerate in the sugar for at least 24 hours, then strain through a jelly bag or cheesecloth.
Alternately, if you’ve pitted the fruit, just place the fruit and sugar into a fermentation bucket and leave them in for the primary.
This time though, I’d just bought a steam juicer to help with the big batches of black currant jelly we make every year. The cherries came ripe shortly after, so I decided to juice the cherries with my new toy.
I started with exactly 10 pounds of cherries in the juicer, which is more than you’ll need in this cherry wine recipe.
After about 90 minutes of slow steaming, the cherries had completely released their juices. The draw-off tube allowed me to harvest the juice without any messy straining or cheesecloth.
I was able to collect a full gallon of juice from 10 pounds of cherries. As I said, this is more than you’ll need for cherry wine.
Though this is a one-gallon cherry wine recipe, there are other things that need to be added into the carboy. Cherries don’t have nearly as much sugar as wine grapes, so you’ll need to add sugar.
Cherries also lack the right balance of tannins and acid to make a well-rounded wine, so I’m adding a bit of tannin powder and acid blend powder.
If you’d like to make cherry wine without buying any winemaking additives, there are substitutions outlined in the article I wrote on making small-batch wine. For example, lemon in place of acid blend and black tea in place of tannin.
How Much Fruit is Needed for Cherry Wine?
I started by removing one quart of the juice, and I set it aside to make cherry jelly. That left me with 3 quarts of cherry juice.
Assuming you’re not interested in making cherry jelly, starting with 6-8 pounds of fruit would work just fine. Many recipes start with 5 pounds of fruit, and I’d say it’ll depend on the flavor of your cherries.
Black cherries have a more intense flavor, with a rich wine-y note. Tart cherries contain a lot more water and most sour cherry jam recipes involve nearly an hour of cooking to cook them down.
I suggest starting with 6-8lbs of tart cherries, or 5-6 pound of sweet black cherries.
How to Make Cherry Wine
Start by extracting the juice from fresh cherries. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including:
- Using a juicer
- Muddling the fruit with sugar
- Freezing then thawing the fruit
- Using a Steam Juicer
Place the juice in a carboy and add the winemaking additives. I’m using sugar, tannin powder, yeast nutrient, and acid blend.
Tannin powder helps improve the mouthfeel of the wine and rounds out the taste.
Yeast nutrient helps the yeast thrive since cherries don’t contain all the same nutrients as grapes.
The acid blend brings out the natural sweetness of the fruit and adjusts the pH to help the fermentation proceed smoothly. Sour cherries have a ph between 3.1 and 3.6, while sweet cherries are 3.7 to 4.5. If you’re using sour cherries, adding acid is optional, and if you choose to include it, use only 1/4 to 1/2 as much.
Sugar, of course, feeds the yeast, raises the alcohol content so the wine will keep and adds residual sweetness.
Everything goes into a fermentation vessel, along with a small amount of water to fill if necessary. Add the yeast and cap with a water lock as they go to work.
Allow the cherry wine to ferment in primary for one to two weeks, until vigorous fermentation has slowed.
After the wine has calmed, use a siphon to rack the wine over into a clean fermentation vessel, leaving the sediment behind. If you left the whole cherries in the fermenter (using a wide mouth bucket fermenter to avoid clogs and make cleanup easier), then this is the time to remove the fruit.
Siphoning will kick off the second round of fermentation.
Allow the cherry wine to ferment in secondary for 4 to 6 weeks (or longer). Once the fermentation is complete, bottle the wine in wine bottles with corks and allow the mixture to bottle age for at least a month (preferably longer) before drinking.
Cherry wine is a refreshing way to enjoy the fruits of summer.
If using Sweet Cherries (Black Cherries)
- 5-6 lbs Cherries
- 2 lbs sugar
- 2 tsp acid blend
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1/8 tsp tannin
- wine yeast (See notes)
If using Sour or Tart Cherries
- 6-8 lbs Cherries
- 2 1/2 lbs sugar
- (Optional) 1/2 to 1 tsp acid blend
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1/8 tsp tannin
- wine yeast (See Notes)
- Sanitize all equipment before beginning with one step brewing sanitizer.
- Juice the cherries (see note) and then dissolve the sugar in about 3 quarts of juice. Stir until completely dissolved (heating is usually not necessary).
- Add the remaining winemaking additives, including acid, tannin and yeast nutrient. Place the mixture into a one-gallon fermentation vessel (narrow neck carboy).
- Dissolve the wine yeast in a small amount of water and allow it to bloom for about 10 minutes. Add the yeast mixture to the carboy.
- Add water (or more cherry juice) to fill.
- Cap with a water lock and allow the mixture to ferment for 1-2 weeks in primary until vigorous fermentation has slowed. If the mixture bubbles up into the water lock, remove it, clean it out and re-apply.
- Rack the cherry wine into a clean carboy, leaving the sediment behind. Re-cap with a water lock and allow the mixture to ferment for another 4 to 6 weeks (or longer).
- Bottle the cherry wine in wine bottles and bottle age for at least a month (or longer) before opening.
Juicing Cherries ~ The cherries can be juiced in a number of ways. Left unpitted, they can:
- go through a steam juicer (about 90 min)
- be frozen then thawed (a few days start to finish)
- be gently mashed with sugar to extract their juices into a sugar syrup, being careful not to damage the pits (about 24 to 48 hours)
If pitted, the cherries can be added directly into a brewing bucket with the other ingredients and left to ferment in a primary. Don't use a narrow neck fermenter for this, it will clog. Open ferment for about 5-7 days with a brewing bucket before straining out the cherries and proceeding with the ferment.
If using just the juice, you may begin with a narrow neck fermenter.
Sweet v. Sour Cherries ~ Black cherries have a more concentrated flavor and I'd suggest using 5-6 lbs of black cherries (weighed whole) for a gallon of cherry wine. Sour cherries contain much more water, and I'd use 6-8 lbs.
Similarly, add a 1/2 pound more sugar for sour cherries.
Sour cherries are considerably more acidic, and you can skip the acid blend all together, or add much less.
Wine Yeast ~ There are lots of options, and most any wine yeast will work. Good choices are:
Fruit Weights ~ If buying fruit at the farmer's market, a quart box of cherries weighs about 1.5lbs.
More Summer Winemaking Recipes
Hoping to make another batch? Fill your carboy with these…