Grandad’s wine was a taste explosion

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This week, back to smallholdery ... I thought it was time I got back to reality. Back to the land. The honest toil of working the soil.

At the risk of beginning to sound like Scarlett O’Hara at the end of Gone With The Wind, when she resolves to go back to Tara, because ‘land is all that matters’, I was ready – what with the giddy excitement of the referendum and the fillum festival – to get back to my usual ‘day job’.

Watching the hedgerows groan with elderberries as I’ve been dashing back and forth recently in my car – aka mum’s taxi service – prompted a wee Google for elderberry wine. Be silly not to take advantage of all those lovely berries just hanging there waiting to be picked.

My grandad used to make elderberry wine. Having since read wine-making books from the early 20th century, I now understand how the following incident happened. But it goes like this. My grandparents lived about a two-hour drive away, so we didn’t see them as often as we would have liked, but it did mean that every visit was special. And that meant we would take them things, and they would send us home with things – ‘presents’.

This could be anything from some broken biscuits from the outlet shop at the local bakery, to bottles of Henderson’s Relish (which my youngest cousin still brings for us when she comes with her family to visit, or sends us home with a bootfull of bottles if we go to visit her). Well, on this occasion, Grandad sent us home with six bottles of his homemade elderberry wine. And in the tradition of the day (having read the old wine-making books), he probably put all sorts of odd things in it like toast, raisins and rice for all sorts of reasons that are quite credible when you read the books and understand why, but seem – quite frankly – odd until you do.

I was quite surprised, as a keen hedgerow wine-maker, to read that in the Good Old Days, the wine was not left in a demijohn with a wee airlock to bubble away merrily in the airing cupboard, but was decanted into bottles and corked. Done and dusted.

So you can imagine that Grandad’s newly-bottled wine, after two hours in the boot of our Vauxhall Viva on a hot summer’s day, was probably quite lively by the time it reached our house. Mum duly popped it in the pantry on the stone shelf, to cool down.

A few hours later it sounded like a series of small, distant explosions going off, and Mum opened the pantry door to find every bottle has literally blown its top and the inside of the pantry was dripping in thick, purpley syrup which, I seem to remember, was so viscous and sticky that it took about three weeks to clean up. I will never forget the look on my Mum’s face when she opened that door. Ever.

Eager not to repeat this, I decided to follow the ancient wine-book recipe, but to leave out the bottling bit and go for the demijohn bit instead. Or rather, I will be.

So far, I have only reached the picking stage as – due to a lack of demijohn/airing cupboard space at the moment due to batches of nettle, courgette and elderflower wine – I have bagged all the berries and put them in the freezer.

Watch this space ...