"The medicine chest of the common people." This is how American Indians and early settlers described the Elderberry - one of the most common fruit-bearing shrubs in North America. Elderberries contain a considerable amount of vitamins A, B and C, as well as flavonoids, carotenoids and amino acids. Warm elderberry wine is a remedy for sore throat, influenza and induces perspiration to reverse the effects of a chill. The juice from the berries is an old fashioned cure for colds, and is also said to relieve asthma and bronchitis. In addition to these health benefits, the elderberry produces a very interesting red wine.
We became interested in Elderberry wine after a Virginia winery recommended that we try Village Winery’s Elderberry wine. Village Winery is a new winery which opened in the summer of 2005 and is located just outside the heart of the village of Waterford, a National Historic Landmark. The winery currently has 5 acres of Elderberry shrubs planted in their vineyard. The recommendation was very accurate. Village Winery’s Elderberry wine is excellent and it compares favorably to their Merlot and Cabernet Franc offerings. The wine is very intense and distinct, with only a slight sweet finish. Others seem to agree with this assessment since approximately 75% of visitors to the winery’s tasting room purchase the wine after tasting.
Also in Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Peaks of Otter Winery produces 25 types of fruit wines, including an Elderberry-Apple wine. The winery is located on the Johnson’s Orchards - a five generation family farm, which was established in 1919. The 10 year old winery makes their Elderberry wine from owner Danny Johnson’s great grandmother’s recipe. According to Mr. Johnson, she did not have money to buy sugar so she fermented her elderberries in apple juice – a process that Peaks of Otter Winery uses today. The elderberries are harvested from wild shrubs or purchased if necessary. The Elderberry, as well as their other fruit wines, has been well received by their customers – as it sells out each year.
Traveling north into Pennsylvania, Laurel Mountain Vineyard produces Elderberry wine out of a renovated 100 year-old barn. Although their Elderberry wine has unique flavor, John Nordberg, the winemaker, believes the wine has some characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon. Residents of central Pennsylvania are very familiar with the Elderberry fruit from making or consuming elderberry jams and pies. Thus, the acceptance of Elderberry wine was not difficult.
In Hammondsport, New York, Chateau Renaissance Wine Cellars is known for producing Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines handcrafted using a 500 year-old family recipe. The winery also makes several fruit wines to accompany their grape and sparkling wines. According to Patrice DeMay, the owner-winemaker, the Elderberry wine happens to be one of the most popular fruit wines they produce. They produce 120 cases a year which sells out quickly because, as Mr. DeMay states, “The wine is an extremely good seller. The taste is wonderful.”
Close by, in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Cascata Winery produces a sweet dessert Elderberry wine. Cascata is a small boutique winery that, in addition to making quality wines, hosts a bed and breakfast in an old historic house built in the mid 1800's. The winery began making Elderberry wine because of the previously mentioned health benefits and their property contains an abundance of old Elderberry trees. The wine is fermented with fresh elderberries and then blended with another grape to mellow out the flavor. The current vintage was blended with Baco Noir. The winery recommends drinking the wine as an after dinner treat or on ice cream or other desserts. Cascata sells the wine directly from their wine shop and since elderberry is very familiar to the New York population, the wine sells nicely.
Continuing northwest to Woodstock Ontario, Birtch Farms Estate Winery began producing elderberry wine in 2002, primarily because the winery is licensed to only produce fruit wine and the Elderberry fruit grows nicely in Ontario. Their Elderberry is a rich fruit full bodied wine which has won two Gold medals in competitions. Although some “wine snobs” refuse to try fruit wines, in the short span of three years, this wine has won a loyal, regular clientele that has embraced Elderberry and other fruit wines. Because of the wine’s high acidity and fruitiness, Dyann Birtch recommends pairing the wine with cheese or serve as a dinner wine.
Out west, in Idaho, Camas Prairie Winery began producing wine from elderberries after have difficulty one year procuring huckleberries. The winery always has one wild berry wine available to its customers and elderberry was an excellent alternative. The winery is Idaho's oldest independent winery having been established in 1983 as a hobby and home wine making operation. Camas Prairie Winery’s Elderberry wine is a sweet dessert wine gathered from wild elderberries. Apparently this wine is quite good since it won a Bronze medal at the 2005 L.A. Fair.