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The Best Elderberry Variety For Wine Making

Michael Gonzales
December 18, 2023

best elderberry variety for wine making

Elderberry fruit contains trace amounts of cyanogenic glycosides which, when broken down, produce cyanide. Heating elderberries to boiling temperatures reduces this level and makes it safe for consumption by healthy adults.

Elderberry cultivars vary in their mature size, productivity and flowerhead or berry cluster numbers – however for home gardeners there’s usually not much of a difference among them.

1. ‘Adams’

The Adams cultivar of European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been specially developed to produce large berries that respond well to pruning. Hardy in USDA Zones 4-8, it produces beautiful white flowers in summer as well as delicious juice, jams & jellies and winemaking. Furthermore, Adams thrives even in wetter environments making it an excellent choice for rain gardens.

While most members of this genus contain poisonous leaves and berries when uncooked, the ‘Adams’ cultivar is safe for consumption and fermentation and available at many nurseries and garden centers.

Adams Elderberry Winemaking Kit is an excellent option for anyone who’s interested in crafting wines using dark, low acidic varieties like Elderberries. When ready, Fermfast Dual Fine Clearing Aid (65g) should be added to ensure crystal clear Elderberry wine bottles.

Blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) is an endangered European elderberry species native to parts of North America. This deciduous shrub or small tree can reach 30 feet in the wild, and features larger flower clusters than Sambucus canadensis. Unfortunately, research on this species is less thorough than on its counterpart; only recently have horticulturists began experimenting with cultivars of blue elderberries as a potential crop variety.

2. ‘Johns’

This cultivar originated at Kentsville Research Station in Nova Scotia. Suitable for growing in hardiness zones 3-9, this cultivar produces large clusters of bead-size sweet and juicy berries which make a delicious juice, pie and wine base. Plus its glossy foliage adds ornamental value in any landscape!

This variety is a hybrid between Sambucus nigra ‘Samyl’ and Sambucus canadensis ‘Johns’ that yields superior fruit qualities, ideal for winemaking, juice production, syrup making and jellifying. With larger berries that contain higher anthocyanin levels compared to its counterpart ‘Adams’ this variety makes an excellent red elderberry wine source.

Johns’ flowers produce a powerful fragrance when their berries are fully mature. Fruits develop from early to late summer in clusters called cymes; starting as green they eventually turn deep purple or black in color as the cluster matures and all its members ripen at once. When all cymes have fully ripened it’s safe for consumption but unripe ones contain trace amounts of cyanogenic glycosides (CNG) which break down into toxic cyanide when consumed in large amounts in your digestive tract when eaten together with unripe fruits in high amounts.

Johns’ Cyme can produce up to 15 pounds of flavorful berries each season. Additionally, its vigorous growth makes it disease resistant – ideal for home gardeners wanting a high yield of elderberries for making homemade products.

3. ‘Nova’

This cultivar boasts large, dense berries with high yields. It thrives in zones 3-9 and boasts excellent disease resistance. Furthermore, this elderberry variety has been reported as having one of the best flavors among all cultivated elderberries.

Picking your berries at their peak of ripeness is key for making wine. Depending on where you live, harvest season can last from July through early October; different bushes may ripen at different times so if working with multiple bushes it may require multiple harvesting efforts and batches for winemaking.

Once you’ve obtained your berries, crush them in a clean five-gallon bucket using either your hands, a potato masher, clean feet (beware! Elderberries will stain your skin for days!), food processor or another method – but be mindful not to crush too many seeds as too many will overwhelm the wine!

Potassium Sorbate should be added to wine prior to backsweetening and bottling to prevent yeast from reactivating and processing sugars further, which can result in off flavors. You can find Potassium Sorbate online or at most homebrew supply stores. Also use a clear fining agent like Fermfast Dualfine Clearing Aid (65 g) as this contains Kieselol and Chitosan which are two highly effective clearing agents available today.

4. ‘York’

If you’re purchasing elderberries for making wine, choose named plants over varieties labeled as cultivars. Named cultivars have been selected by humans for desirable traits compared to wild berries which reproduce from seed and may not always produce consistent crops. Your local nursery should stock some such named cultivars; alternatively you could search Amazon.

“York” elderberry plants provide superior performance in cold climates and make for excellent wine, jellies, syrups and pies production. With large cymes with white flowers producing dense fruit clusters suited for making wine it can even withstand diseases and can be grown from USDA Hardiness Zone 4-8.

Some elderberry species produce cyanogenic glycosides (CNGs), which convert to cyanide when heated. People sensitive to these chemicals should avoid eating elderberries that produce CNGs; CNGs can be released during harvest, processing, and cooking processes as well – using a strainer and heat to remove seeds may help limit exposure.

The ‘York’ cultivar was developed at the New York Agricultural Experimental Station and selected for its ability to withstand cold and disease conditions while producing abundant yields and quality fruit. A vigorous upright plant that can reach 6-10 feet tall, you can purchase this variety through OzarkMtnPlants or other growers.

5. ‘Wyldewood’

This cultivar reportedly produces large clusters of berries that make an excellent wine crop, making it suitable for growing in zones 3-9 and reaching up to 12 feet tall.

Elderberries contain high concentrations of vitamin C and anthocyanins that may help reduce inflammation while protecting against heart disease and cancer. Elderberry berries make an excellent dietary addition.

When selecting an elderberry variety to cultivate, keep space and climate conditions in mind. Whenever possible, plant multiple cultivars at once as this will extend harvest season and improve chances of pollination.

Named cultivars can be purchased through small sellers and online retailers such as OzarkMtnPlants and Amazon, among others. You may be able to locate rare elderberry varieties through online groups dedicated to selling plants and cuttings.

Be cautious when searching for “elderberry” on eBay or Amazon as many results will include unnamed varieties that may be difficult to identify from photos alone. If purchasing from an unnamed vendor, contact them directly so you know which cultivars will be included with your order; when buying from private sellers be wary and only buy from reputable sites that provide a solid return policy as otherwise you risk receiving disappointing or dangerous products for wine production.

6. ‘Adams’

Elderberry wine, when made correctly and aged and oaked properly, makes an enjoyable libation. Its flavor resembles that of red grape wines such as Mourvedre and Petit Verdot in its earthy qualities and bold body.

From a winemaking standpoint, most elderberry varieties offer similar results. Although the size and appearance of mature plants, flower heads, and berry clusters may differ between cultivars, this difference typically is more an aesthetic concern than an actual difference in wine quality.

The Adams variety is an open-pollinated selection that was developed at the University of Minnesota. Winter hardy in zones 4-8, this cultivar produces large berries in August that are soft, sweet, and juicy – it even makes for great ornamental value with its dark purple-black berries looking quite appealing!

Some experts advise planting multiple elderberry plants in order to increase yields. Doing this creates more cross pollination between flowers and berries, leading to improved harvest results.

To make elderberry wine at home, the first step should be purchasing a 7.9 gallon fermenter kit. These kits contain all of the equipment necessary for creating homemade wine from yeast, potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite (for spoilage prevention). In order to properly make elderberry wine using regular tap water can throw off its acidity; therefore distilled or reverse osmosis water would be preferable in making this beverage; but regular bottled water will do just fine!


  • Michael Gonzales

    Michael has a diverse set of skills and passions, with a full-time career as an airline pilot and a dedicated focus on health and fitness consulting. He understands the importance of balancing a busy lifestyle with maintaining a healthy mind and body, and is committed to helping others achieve the same success. Michael's expertise in health and fitness is not just limited to physical training, but also extends to nutrition, stress management, and overall wellbeing. He takes a holistic approach to health and fitness, helping clients to achieve their goals in a sustainable and fulfilling way. With a strong desire to inspire and motivate others, Michael is always ready to share his time and knowledge with those who seek his guidance. Whether in the air or on the ground, Michael is dedicated to helping others live their best lives.

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-gonzales-07bb4b31/ [email protected] Gonzales Michael


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