Technically a mead, due to the use of honey instead of sugar, this wild fermented dandelion wine is made delicious with the inclusion of apricots and blood orange. Once considered medicinal, lightly chilled homemade wine is a perfect summer sipper as the sunsets.
Perhaps some of you have read past posts (like this strawberry elderflower mead or this ginger coriander ale), and know that I have a background in wine making. Oddly, it was never about the alcohol content or the prestige — I am intrigued by transformation and the complexity of aromas and flavors. Fermentation, itself an act of preservation, satisfies my desire to transform fruit and herbs into something different, possibly shelf stable, and possibly celebratory. Simply put, I fiddle with plants — in the garden, in the apothecary, in the kitchen. And sometimes this fiddling turns into something special.
Such is the case with this wild fermented dandelion wine (truly a mead, to be honest), resplendent in apricot and citrus notes, and colored in shades of the summer sunset. Tasting similar to a viognier (for wine aficionados), this is the perfect sipper for the warmest days of the year.
Who Even Brews Their Own Wine, Meads, Beers, & Ciders and WHY?
I do and you can too. Really. The process is simpler than you think and doesn’t require an education in enology so much as an imagination and attention to detail. Home fermentation can be incredibly fun and rewards you with inspired flavors that are like nothing that you can buy at the store. My dear friend Amber of Pixie’s Pocket recently published her new book Artisanal Small Batch Brewing for the fledgling home fermenter and even more seasoned home brewer. While this dandelion wine recipe is not in her book, it was her writing that inspired me to pull my fermentation gear out of storage and treat my inner winemaker to project this spring. Amber’s book is filled with gloriously interesting and fully flavored home brews that I am excited to try out over the course of the year.
Amber recommends the following equipment for a successful home brew set up (reprinted with permission from Artisanal Small-Batch Brewing by Amber Shehan, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019):
- digital scale
- brewing pot/stockpot
- long spoons
- fermenter (glass jug and brew bucket)
- bung and airlock
- wine thief/sanitized straw
- siphon tube/racking cane
- straining bags and
You will find yourself using some, but not all the equipment above for the recipe below. But, if the experience of making your first homebrew turns you into a fermentation monster, these pieces are a wise investment.
Why Wild Ferment vs Using Yeast?
Good question. On one hand, using commercial yeast you can virtually guarantee a successful ferment as long as you choose the right yeast for the job and keep your fermentation area and tools scrupulously clean. You can select yeast strains with different alcohol tolerances so that you can steer your finished homemade wine anywhere from bone dry (no sweetness) to high residual sugar (very sweet). Ideally, you end up with a clear expression of the fruit and ingredients that you used for your homemade wine. For the record, I use commercial yeast for most of my home brews.
But for this dandelion wine, I wanted something different. Instead of using sugar in this recipe, I chose to use the honey from our previous year’s hives — making this technically a dandelion MEAD and not a dandelion wine (but dandelion mead doesn’t quite have the same ring, ya know). Raw and unfiltered, this honey is filled with the micro-organisms that can create beautiful fermentation under the right conditions. Fermenting folk often suggest that a wild fermentation helps your homemade wine speak to terrior, a sense of place — a unique expression of the fruits, flowers and honey used for the brew. This all sounds quite romantic, and it very well can be. But alas, in wild ferments we leave a lot up to chance and the “wrong” yeast and and bacteria could take hold, ruining the batch beyond drink-ability. In a commercial winery, we would steer the ferment towards the dominant yeast being Saccharomyces cerevisiae (the preferred yeast species for producing still will) with judicious use of sulfur dioxide. So how to we do that in a home fermentation setting without channeling our inner chemist and figuring out how to dose SO2 — heck, without even having to locate and purchase the stuff?
My friends, I use dried fruit. Basic, run of the mill, NOT organic dried fruit. Not only do dried fruits provide vital yeast nutrients that might otherwise be lacking in a wildflower wine, but commercial dried fruit is dosed with sulfur dioxide (SO2) to preserve color. If you are wondering if just a little dried fruit will steer the microbiome of this homemade wine in our desired direction, my answer is yes. Just ask anybody with a sulfur sensitivity how just a little bit of dried fruit affects them. Well, yeast are sensitive too and a little goes a long way. So, in short, yes, I feel that there is enough unbound SO2 on dried fruit to help a homemade wine move in the right fermentation direction.
Wild Fermented Dandelion Wine with Blood Orange & Apricot Recipe
This wild fermented dandelion wine (ahem, dandelion mead) was a long time coming. As an herbalist, forager, and home fermenter, it seemed rather bizarre that I hadn’t made this quintessential wildflower wine. This spring, our “lawn” (and I use that term loosely – those that have followed my reclaiming the homestead journey know that it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses), was scattered with dandelions and the lawnmower was on the fritz, giving me the perfect opportunity to send the youngest kids out to pick the blooms while I was at a book signing. That evening, my littlest and I carefully tugged the yellow petals from the green calyx until we had four cups of petals. Because the dandelion aromatics and flavor is subtleand volatile, I heated a kettle of water until just barely hot, poured it over the petals, covered and infused in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, a sliced blood orange, chopped dried apricots, honey and more water were combined with the dandelion infusion, and placed in a one gallon fermentation jar with airlock.
And then I waited.
Then waited some more.
Truth be told, the inner winemaker in me was SCREAMING “pitch some yeast already, woman!” but I held off. Instead, I stirred the content of the jar 2-3x daily and hoped. A few days later it was clear that the solids were forming a firmer “cap” indicating that there was some carbon dioxide building up in the liquid below due to fermentation. I stirred for a couple more days, then finally awoke one morning to the telltale foaming around the edges of the cap and a vigorously bubbling airlock. The mixture smelled great and the ferment was starting off clean and healthy. It took a couple more weeks until the activity in the airlock ceased and the dandelion wine as as dry as the native yeast would take it. I would say that my dandelion is just off-dry with a hint of residual sugar (probably less than 1%). The delicate, ephemeral dandelion notes are given some volume with the fruity apricot and the bittersweet blood orange. The perfect balance of acidity, slight sweetness, and suggestion of pleasant citrus-y bitterness makes this dandelion wine perfect to pair with spicy foods or just to sip, chilled, on a warm summer evening.
NOTE: This dandelion wine could benefit with some clarification from pectinase enzyme. But because I wanted this to be a true “hands off” expression of the wild process without the use of traditional wine-making additives, I instead merely allowed the homemade wine to settle as much as possible before racking off the solids and bottling.
Wild Fermented Dandelion Wine with Blood Orange & Apricots
- 4 cups yellow dandelions, petals only harvest from areas free of spray and animal contamination
- 1.5 lbs raw, unfiltered honey
- 1 blood orange sliced
- 1 cup dried apricots coarsely chopped
- 1 gallon spring or un-chlorinated water divided
- Infuse dandelion petals in four cups hot water, covered, for 12-24 hours, preferably in the refrigerator once cooled.
- Combine dandelion infusion (with petals), with honey, blood orange, and apricots in a one sterilized one gallon fermentation jar. Fill jar with water leaving about 1" headspace, and place a lid fitted with an airlock on the jar.
- Stir contents 2-3x daily with a clean long handed spoon, making sure solids stay thoroughly wet.
- Depending on the native strains of yeast and conditions, your fermentation should kick off in 3-10 days. Once you see signs of active ferment, you can reduce your stirring to once daily.
- Your fermentation is complete when the activity in the airlock ceases and the wine is no longer "spritzy" on the palate. Strain through muslin or a straining bag, and pour the wine into another jug or jar to settle.
- Allow the wine to settle for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Using a siphon tube or racking cane, bottle the homemade wine into swing top bottle.
- Store bottles in a cool location or in the refrigerator. Drink withing 2-3 months.
Atkin, E. (2017, August 11). How to measure the amount of Sulphur Dioxide in Wine. Retrieved from https://camblab.info/wp/index.php/how-to-test-sulphur-dioxide-in-wine/