The red-fruited, prickly-leaved barberry is native in one variety or another throughout most of North America. In the southwestern United States, the Berberis haematocarpa, called algerita in Spanish and agarita in Texas, grows as shrubs a few feet high and produces blood-red berries with a high acid content that ripen in the fall. In the south and southeast, the holly-like leaved Berberis canadensis thrives. But in the mid-west and throughout New England, it is the Berberis vulgaris that is common, with its orange-red to scarlet berries, sharp triplr-spines, and sharply serrated leaves. It grows 3-10 feet tall and can be covered with ripening berries from September to Thanksgiving. The Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) long ago escaped from cultivation and can be found from Nova Scotia to Michigan and south from North Carolina to Missouri. It does not have toothed leaves and tends to have single spined-thorns or central spined-thorns with very small flanking spines. There are numerous other varieties scattered across the continent. With rare exception, barberries are tart. They do, however, make a very flavorful wine.
Pick only ripe berries. Wash, destem and crush berries. Heat to low boil, then simmer covered for 10 minutes. Fold top berries under, recover and simmer another 10 minutes. Pour into nylon jelly-bag and allow to drip over primary until pulp is cool. Meanwhile dissolve sugar into 3 cups boiling water and allow to cool. Squeeze cooled barberry pulp gently and add juice to primary. Add all but one cup of cooled sugar-water to primary. Measure liquor and add enough water to bring to one gallon even. Measure specific gravity and add sugar-water until 1.090 achieved. Test for acid and adjust to .50-.65% tartaric (if required). Add jelly-bag, pectic enzyme and nutrients to primary. Wait at least 10 hours before inoculating with wine yeast. Cover well and set in warm (70-75 degrees F.) place, stirring daily. When S.G. drops to 1.040 (about 5 days), gently press jelly-bag to extract clear juice, discarding remaining pulp and seed. Siphon off sediments into secondary, top up, fit airlock, and set in cooler (60-65 degrees F.) place. Rack after 3 weeks and again after another 3 weeks. Bottle when clear. May taste after 6 months.[Author's own recipe]