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Wild Chokecherries


The common chokecherry, sometimes called the wild cherry, is found in all of the United States except the Gulf and lower Atlantic States and all but the very northern provinces of Canada. It is but one of dozens of members of the genus Prunus--which includes plums and cherries but is really the rose family--native to the United States and Canada. Chokecherries, botanically, are Prunus virginiana, but chokecherry befits them for two reasons; they are uncommonly sour and their stones (seeds) and wilted leaves contain hydrocyanic acid, which is extremely unhealthy. Growing as a shrub or small tree to 25 feet in height, it is often found along moist woodland margins, fencerows, roadsides, streambeds, and shorelines. Its smooth, often reddish-brown bark is quite distinctive. Its 3/8-inch flowers have five white, rounded petals and grow in dense, elongated clusters. The berries ripen from mid-summer to October, depending on location, as dark red to almost black. The berries are round, fleshy, 1/3 to 2/5 inch, and encase an egg-shaped stone which should be removed. When ripe, the berries are fairly juicy and popular among many birds. The only slightly toxic berry that could possibly be confused with the chokecherry is the Carolina laurelberry (Prunus caroliniana), but the chokecherry's bark and alternating, jagged-edged leaves are good identifiers.

Ripe chokecherries make excellent jelly and very good wine. The toxic pits should not dissuade you from making and enjoying this wonderful wine. Simply destoning the berries will eliminate any potential hazard. Don't let the tartness of the fruit trick you into over-sweetening the must. Chokecherry wine is best when dry, but if you simply cannot tolerate dry wine then sweeten it before bottling very sparingly, please. The delicate undertones of flavor unique to the chokecherry are easily lost to sugar!


WILD CHOKECHERRY WINE (1)

Pick only ripe berries. Destem and destone berries, put in blender with one cup of the water and chop. Pour into nylon straining bag, tie and put in primary with half the sugar and the remianing water, acid blend, tannin and crushed Campden tablet. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover primary and let stand 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme and let stand another 12 hours. Add yeast, stir and cover again. Gently squeeze bag twice daily to extract juice. After seven days, drain bag and squeeze well to extract as much juice as you can. Add remaining sugar and stir well to dissolve, then pour into secondary and fit airlock. Use dark fermenter or wrap brown paper around secondary to preserve color. Ferment 30 days, rack, rack again in two months and again after additional two months. If you are going to sweeten, add stabilizer, wait 10 days, then add no more than 1/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1/8 cup water. Bottle in dark glass or store in dark place. May taste in six months, but best aged a year. [Adapted from Dorothy Alatorre's Home Wines of North America]


WILD CHOKECHERRY WINE (2)

Pick only ripe berries. Put water on to boil. Destem and destone berries, put in primary and crush by hand. Add chopped raisins, sugar and boiling water and stir well to dissolve sugar. Cover primary with plastic sheet secured with large rubber band. Allow to sit overnight, then add remaining ingredients except pectic enzyme and yeast. Recover, wait 12 hours and add pectic enzyme. Recover, wait additional 12 hours and add yeast. Cover with sterile cloth and stir twice daily until S.G. drops to 1.040 (5-6 days). Strain fruit pulp and siphon liquor into dark secondary. Fit airlock. Rack in three weeks and again in three months. When wine clears, stabilize and wait ten days and rack again if necessary. Sweeten sparingly if desired. Bottle in dark glass or store in dark place. Age one year. [Adapted from Stanley F. Anderson and Raymond Hull's The Art of Making Wine]


WILD CHOKECHERRY WINE (3)

Pick only ripe berries. Put water on to boil. Destem and sort berries, discarding any bruised fruit. Put berries in nylon straining bag, tie and place in primary. Cover berries with boiling water, cover primary with plastic sheet, and wait 2-3 hours. Crush berries by hand, being careful not to break pits. Add remaning ingredients except pectic enzyme and yeast. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover and forget about it for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme, recover and leave another 12 hours. Add yeast, recover, and squeeze bag daily. When S.G. drops to 1.030 (5-6 days), drain fruit pulp (squeezing gently) and siphon liquor into dark secondary. Fit airlock and rack in three weeks. Rack three more times, once every two months, bottling after third racking. Stabilize and sweeten slightly before bottling if you must. Bottle in dark glass to preserve color or store in dark place. Age 9-12 months. [Adapted from Raymond Massaccesi's Winemaker's Recipe Handbook]


WILD CHOKECHERRY DESSERT WINE

Pick only ripe berries. Put water on to boil. Destem and sort berries, discarding any bruised fruit. Put berries in nylon straining bag, tie and place in primary. Cover berries with boiling water, cover primary with plastic sheet, and wait 2-3 hours. Crush berries by hand, being careful not to break pits. Add 1/2 sugar and remaning ingredients except pectic enzyme and yeast. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover, add pectic enzyme after 12 hours and yeast after another 12 hours. Squeeze bag and stir liquor twice daily. After 5 days, add remaining sugar and stir well to dissolve. Ferment additional 3 days, drain fruit pulp (squeezing gently) and siphon liquor into dark secondary. Fit airlock and rack in 30 days. Rack three more times, once every two months, stabilizing after third racking. Dissolve 1/2 cup sugar in 1/4 cup boiling water, cool and add to wine before bottling in dark glass to preserve color (or store in dark place). Age 9-12 months. [Adapted from Raymond Massaccesi's Winemaker's Recipe Handbook]




Last update was November 2nd, 2000.


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