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What is Dandelion Wine? | Wine Enthusiast

What is Dandelion Wine? | Wine Enthusiast

“Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue,” wrote Ray Bradbury in his collection of short stories, aptly titled Dandelion Wine. “The wine was summer caught and stoppered.”

The golden-hued drink—a concoction of dandelions fermented with yeast and sugar—does indeed capture the essence of a sunny day. “Making dandelion wine is a rite of spring,” says Danny Childs, an ethnobotanist and author of Slow Drinks, a book about transforming foraged items into beverages. “I really look forward to both making it and enjoying it. You wait all winter for things to start growing again, then dandelions appear; they’re the symbolic birth of spring.”

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While the plant is a weed to many, dandelions have been transformed into wine for centuries. In the 1600s, European colonists brought dandelions with them as they journeyed to America. This was for a few reasons: they could eat the greens and dandelions were an abundant source of flavoring and naturally occurring yeast, “meaning, they could make their own wine,” Childs explains.

But somewhere along the way, Americans’ view of the plant shifted from that of a reliable resource into pesky nuisance—wars have long been waged to eliminate the golden “weed” from verdant, monochromatic lawns. Recently, however, foragers have been increasingly returning to the plant’s roots by way of homemade dandelion wine.

What is Dandelion Wine?

Like grape wine, dandelion wine is a fermented drink.

“After fermentation, dandelions leave a pillowy soft, pollen-y vibe that I can’t get enough of,” says Tariq Ahmed, owner of Revel Cider, in Ontario, and maker of a zippy dandelion cider. “Smelling the cider I make with fresh dandelions every year is like what I imagine the experience of burying your face into a pillow of the flowers might be like.”

Other draws? For first-time foragers, dandelion wine offers a low barrier to entry. The plants grow fervently across both abandoned fields and urban lawns, plus they can’t really be mistaken for anything poisonous, which happens with mushrooms. “It’s very beginner friendly,” Childs says.

Dandelion wine also captures a moment; the first whispers of warmer seasons. “It’s the annual excitement that spring brings every year, but in a bottle,” says Revel’s Tariq, who prefers to be identified by his first name. “Winter seems to always drag on a bit too long, so dandelions herald the exciting part of the year where things are veering towards brighter days.”

Who’s Making Dandelion Wine?

Tariq forages dandelions every year and turns it into a glowing yellow cider, Ostara, made with local dandelion, golden plums and apples. In Brooklyn, Enlightenment Wines and Meadery enlists an army of volunteers to forage flowers for Memento Mori, a dandelion wine made with orange peel and wildflower honey. At Honey’s, the brand’s Brooklyn bar, they serve the wine in a cocktail mixed with gin and amaro.

In New Jersey, Bellview Winery has been making dandelion wine for almost twenty years. But owner Jim Quarella has been brewing it as a hobby for 40 years before opening his business. He uses a recipe passed down from his great Aunt Ada, who picked dandelions well into her 98th year. “When she was still alive, she was strict that we follow her recipe,” laughs Bellview winemaker David Gardner.

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Previously, Bellview sourced flowers from a field next to the winery, where they grew abundantly, but have since partnered with a nearby farm, which grows the plant for its leaves. Leaving nothing to waste, Bellview takes the flowers for its dandelion wine.

Since Bellview has been in business for so long, they’re able to pour older vintages of dandelion wine, which shows off how nuanced the drink can be. “Age softens the wine,” Gardner says. “It gets smoother.”

How to Make Dandelion Wine

Step one: start foraging. Any dandelions can be turned into wine—the ones sprouting up in your lawn, your neighbors’ lawn or at a local park. Tariq waits for a sunny day when dandelions and other trees are blooming to forage. Dandelions are one of the first food sources for bees during spring, so he likes to ensure they have other options before he snags the plants.

Depending on your palate, you can take the greens off or leave them on. “I like the bitterness they add—it lets the wine drink more similarly to a beer,” says Childs, who has a dandelion mead recipe and a dandelion-infused gin in Slow Drinks. The folks from Bellview also leave the greens on. “It’s what our Aunt Ada always did,” Gardner says.

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The petals are boiled (or cold brewed) and steeped for several days to make dandelion tea. Then, add in an acid—Childs uses citrus and Tariq likes apple juice in his zippy cider—a sugar and a yeast and let it bubble for a few weeks until all of the sugar has fermented. (TikTok forager Alexis Nikole Nelson offers an informative video on all of the above.)

Childs works with three parts dandelion tea with one part sweetener (which can be a basic bartender’s simple syrup or honey syrup). Then, he adds in yeast to start the fermentation. “You can use commercial yeast, but I like to use a ginger bug, which is similar to a sourdough starter or SCOBY,” he says. Seal safely, let the fermentation finish, then enjoy.

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