After sampling cranberry wine at a local vineyard, I was determined to make my own. It’s warm, fruity and well balanced with just enough tart astringency to give it character. Instead of topping my meal with cranberry sauce, once this wine has aged properly I’ll be drinking my cranberries in as homemade cranberry wine.
Originally I planned to use fresh cranberries as it only seemed proper. We grow cranberries right in our backyard, so I was hoping to be able to make cranberry wine with our own fruit. As the season went on, it became apparent that the squirrels had made off with much of this year’s harvest (along with the plums and hazelnuts too…). That’s ok, cranberries ripen late, and knowing that ours were out of the question meant I could start early.
Most store-bought cranberry juice contains an absurd amount of added sugar, often in the form of corn syrup. It not that the extra sugar is bad, this cranberry wine will need plenty of extra sugar added to ferment properly. Corn syrup will make the wine ferment really violently, and you’ll lose a lot of the cranberry flavor when that happens. Beyond that, when I’ve had cranberry juice cocktails they rarely taste much like cranberries.
I use a wicked tart, unsweetened pure cranberry juice to make mixed drinks and I thought that would work really well in this cranberry wine. If you use sweetened cranberry juice, be sure to decrease the sugar accordingly. I also added a pound of craisins (cranberry raisins) to amp up the cranberry flavor even further.
Start by using the cranberry juice to dissolve a bit of sugar in a saucepan. Heat it just until the sugar dissolves and then turn off the heat.
If you’re using fresh cranberries instead of juice, chop 3-4 pounds of cranberries and add them directly to the primary fermenter. These will be screened out after primary fermentation to allow the wine to clear, in the same way that I’ll filter out the craisins after the primary.
I prefer my wines on the dry side, so I’m only using 2 pounds of sugar in this cranberry wine recipe. Most people would a one gallon batch of wine with 3 pounds of sugar, and I’d suggest you stick with that unless you want it to have a healthy dose of tart.
For additives, I’m just using yeast nutrient. The yeast nutrient will help make up for the fact that cranberries don’t have the same micronutrients as grapes, and will help the little beasties thrive. If you don’t have yeast nutrient, about 1/4 cup of raisins will do the trick instead. Pectic enzyme would also be a nice addition, and it helps the wine clear after fermentation. Consider adding 1 teaspoon at the beginning of fermentation.
Cranberries are wicked acidic on their own, so I’m skipping the customary addition of acid in this batch. I never use stabilizers for my mine, since I’m ok with a bit of sediment from residual bottle fermentation. Feel free to add Potassium Sorbate and Camden tablets (potassium metabisulfite) to completely end the fermentation and stabilize the wine before bottling if you want a dependably clear completely still cranberry wine.
I’ve included the recipe I made below, but I’ve recently found another recipe in a winemaking book that is shared at the end as well.
- Add the sugar and cranberry juice to a small saucepan and heat it just enough to dissolve the sugar. If using fresh cranberries, add water instead of juice and use it to dissolve the sugar.
- Allow the sugar and juice mixture to come to room temperature. While it's cooling, dissolve the yeast packet in a small amount of lukewarm water. Allow it to bloom for at least 5 minutes.
- Add the yeast nutrient and dried cranberries to the juice/sugar mixture and then pour it all into a primary fermentation vessel. Add the dissolved yeast.
- Cap with a water lock and allow the mixture to ferment in primary for 2-3 weeks. Alternately, allow the mixture to ferment without an airlock for about 5 days, then rack into secondary and add an airlock.
- Either way, once the mixture is in secondary, add an airlock. Ferment in secondary for 6-8 weeks before bottling. For a very dry wine, rack the cranberry wine a second time and ferment for another 6-8 weeks.
- Bottle in wine bottles and age for at least 3 months, but preferably a full year from bottling.
Other Cranberry Wine Recipes
Since making the recipe above, I came across another cranberry wine recipe in The Home Winemakers Companion. The recipe is for a 5-gallon batch, and includes the following:
- 15 lbs cranberries
- 5 lbs raisins
- 15 lbs sugar
- 5 tsp yeast nutrient
- 10 drops liquid pectic enzyme
- 1 package Wyeast Sweet Mead Yeast
The procedure has you basically throw everything into a primary for 5 to 7 days, and then rack to a secondary for about 3 months before bottling. They suggest 3 months of bottle aging before drinking.
More Country Wine Recipes
If you’re new to winemaking, check out this guide to making small-batch wines for a bit more information. For more ideas, try any of these homemade wines: