I have already posted some historical notes about cranberries and so here I wanted to share my receipt for the cranberry wine I make. If you haven’t already seen my plum-hibiscus wine post, stop now and read it. Remember that while we might want to experiment with the receipts we see in old books, when we know better, we do better, and sanitation is important.
4 lbs. frozen cranberries
2 gallons filtered water (chlorine may kill your yeast beasties)
5 lbs. sugar
1 package Lalvin 71B-1122 wine yeast
Wash and clean the cranberries and freeze them. Bring your water and sugar to a boil and simmer it until the sugar dissolves. After this, put your frozen fruit in a food grade brewing bucket that’s at least four gallons.
Pour the boiling syrup over top the fruit. The cranberries will start to make a popping noise. Don’t be alarmed. I pour just enough over the fruit, cover it and mash it with a potato masher. Then I add the rest of the syrup, cover the container, and let it sit overnight. The next morning you add your wine yeast.
For fruit wines, I usually use Norbonne yeast (Lalvin 71B-11-22, Saccharomyces cerevisiae) which is a strain able to metabolize malic acid which will mellow any acidity. Cranberries are extremely high in acidity though and sometimes you must give the fermentations a little kick. If you think fermentation is not progressing in a timely manner, you can add a bit of rehydrated champagne yeast to kick it in gear.
Within the first 24 hours or so, the liquid part (called the must) will bubble a bit, and the fruit (called the lees) rises to form a sort of a cap on the top of your must. You want to carefully push fruit down into the must once daily. Don’t stir or agitate too much. just lightly push the fruit below the surface and then let it float back up on its own.
I check the specific gravity every day with this one because it gets stuck sometimes. Remember, you want your hydrometer to register a specific gravity between 1.03 and 1.02 before you move it to a secondary ferment. If it stalls out, I add some dissolved champagne yeast and let the lees sit on the must for another week. It will be okay; cranberries are tough so you can let them sit in the must a bit longer than a soft fruit like plums. The concern about letting a primary ferment go too long is that the lees will decompose to the point that it starts off-loading some funky flavors.
When it is time to move to a secondary ferment carefully skim (scum) the lees from your must and squeeze the excess liquid in the lees back into the bucket. I do this by slowly ladling the fruit into a bag I have sewn from butter muslin and twisting the top close to squeeze it into the bucket. Then you rack your wine into your glass demijohns and put an airlock on them. Remember that you are using your racking cane to prevent oxidizing your wine.
Your wine is ready to bottle when the specific gravity of your wine stops dropping. Take a hydrometer reading on the first day of the third week and every few days after that. When it has been the same two days in a row, it is ready for bottling. Dry wines usually drop to about 0.990 while sweet wines only drop to 1.005.
You can also use the trick of adding a few dried currants to your secondary ferment. We have added dried currants to our primary ferments. The dried currants absorb some of the carbon dioxide, so they float up and down while fermentation is happening. When it is still, they rise to the top and stay there, so we know it’s time to bottle it up for aging.