I’ve always wanted to learn the art of making dandelion wine. For me, it all started with a book named Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. In the story, he described how the essence of summer could be captured within a clear glass bottle and savored in the cold heart of winter. And it was all from the magical elixir of homemade wine. But it was years before I actually gathered the courage and the equipment to give it a try.
After having vague memories of old stories of bathtub gin and bootleg whiskey that poisoned people and caused death or blindness, I was still hesitant. But when I spoke with the man at the supply shop, he assured me that winemaking is far less dangerous than distilling alcohol. As long as you stick with simple fermentation, he said, you’ll be just fine. Of course, I had to be the exception to that rule, but that’s another part of the story.
Dandelions aka the Lion’s Tooth
Making wine itself is a fairly simple procedure. Making dandelion wine has a few extra steps. First, I had to wait until spring for the dandelions to bloom. While most people gas up the mower at the first sight of the sunny blossoms, I was encouraging them to grow. And grow they did. They crept up all over, from the yard to the flower beds and everywhere in between.
Once I got my first big crop of dandelions, I had to process the flowers. To make a sweet dandelion wine, use just the yellow petals. Any trace of the green at the base of the petals can add bitterness to the wine. In other words, take each flower and pick off every trace of green.
After hearing of my plan, my mother took pity on me and agreed to help. Several hours later, we had two large bowls of fluffy yellow petals and tired, green-stained fingers. It was a chore, but would it be worth it? Only time would tell.
Making Dandelion Wine
When making dandelion wine, first, boil the petals with water and then steep them to make a strong tea. Add the juice of two oranges and a lemon. Stir well and strain.
While the liquid is still warm, add sugar and stir until it’s dissolved. Then cover and let it sit overnight. The next day, add a package of champagne yeast and cover again.
For a serious winemaker, you can fit the cover with a lid and airlock, but if you don’t want to invest in any equipment, simply cover the pot with a layer of plastic wrap and secure it with a large rubber band.
When making wine, you want to prevent any air from getting to the wine, while at the same time allowing the gasses produced by the fermenting process to escape. If you use an air-tight lid, it may explode causing quite a mess. (More about this later…)
Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble…
Over the next few days, the mixture will begin to ferment. You may see bubbles or smell a yeasty smell. That means it is working. Now leave it alone for about a month.
After a month or so, the mixture should have stopped bubbling and there should be a layer of sediment at the bottom of the container. The sediment is what remains after the yeast has eaten the sugar from the wine.
Carefully siphon off the liquid without disturbing the sediment. This is called “racking the wine.” You can then cover the wine again and allow it to ferment for another month or so, then rack it again. Or, if you’re ready, you can go ahead and bottle the wine.
To bottle the wine, take sterilized bottles, fill with wine and then cork loosely. The bottles will need to be stored for 5-9 months before serving if you can wait that long. (Dandelion wine also tastes pretty good after just a month or two.)
Watch Out For Flying Corks!
Place the bottles in a cellar or other area that maintains a constant temperature. If you don’t, you may experience exploding bottles or blown corks.
If the temperature fluctuates (which it does a lot in the winter where I live) the wine may start fermenting again.
When this happens, the bottle may fill up with gas and blow its cork. It’s fairly common, which is why corks are used in wine bottles. It avoids the whole exploding bottle problems that occasionally happen with home beer brewers.
Unfortunately, it also tends to spew wine all over the floor, pantry and everything else in the path of the flying cork. It got to the point where I could just open my front door and know that another cork had blown from the strong aroma of wine that greeted me.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry…
While it’s usually perfectly fine to drink the wine that has just blown its cork, it’s always best to make sure that it actually did it recently. An open bottle of wine left unattended for an unknown period of time can cause serious food poisoning. (Don’t ask me how I know…)
If your wine tastes funny, don’t drink it. If it smells funny, don’t drink it. If it popped its cork, make sure it happened today before you drink it. (Do as I say, not as I do…)
But, bouts of unintentional, self-inflicted food poisoning aside, winemaking can be an exciting pastime. And few things can compare to a glass of sweet dandelion wine in January when the snow is on the ground. It’s like drinking in a taste of springtime. You know that soon enough the yard will be covered with bright yellow dandelions and it will be time to start making dandelion wine all over again.
So, how was my first batch of dandelion wine? It was liquid summer – sunshine in a glass. Was it worth it and will I make it again? Of course! For winemakers are the eternal optimists. Who else would spend all that time and trouble creating something that you have to wait nearly a year or longer to enjoy?