Winecraft: Smooth Sumac

With a stretch of sunny weather, I decided to harvest the Smooth Sumac berries. They had deepened in color, and touching a finger to a berry (and tasting it) indicated that they were definitely ripe – and pucker you up sour!

This wine recipe starts out by making a “tea” from the berries. But this isn’t a flower or an herb, right? Sumac berries aren’t soft and juicy like blackberries…these are hard and very tart. And a bit hirsute. So I crushed them a bit with a muddler, then steeped them overnight in room temperature water (this is important because if you use hot water, it will make the tea unpleasantly bitter).

The next morning, I strained off the liquid and added the rest of the ingredients, including yeast slurry from a recently-racked pineapple wine. The farm fowl enjoyed the spent berries.

I think I may have waited just a little too long to harvest the berries because stinkbugs and other insects that weren’t there a couple of weeks ago had discovered the berries, too. Or maybe the bugs just know when they’re ripe…either way, bugs had gotten into the middle of some of the drupes and damaged them. I just picked off the bad parts and salvaged what I could, which was plenty to make the infusion.

After a few days of daily aeration, it’s fizzy and a little foamy at the top. That yeast slurry was obviously still very active!

View into the fermenter

Today, I moved it to the secondary fermenter with airlock. It’s still fairly cloudy, but I expect – like many other wines – it will clear nicely with time. I wonder what color the finished wine will be..?

Initial impressions: it smells delicious, with a fragrance that’s both floral and fruity – bodes well for the finished wine!

I didn’t include the actual recipe because this is the inaugural batch, so it may ultimately turn out, well, bad…but I’d be happy to share if you want the recipe. And remember to be sure that you’re certain of the identity of any plant, berry, or flower before you use or eat it!