"I have three beautifully fruited hackberry trees which survived
the drought only because my lawn is watered with well-water.
Do you know if one can make wine with their sweet berries?"
Alvin Danvis, III
The American (or Eastern) hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and desert (or spiny) hackberry (Celtis pallida) grow from shrub to tree, the former reaching 25-40 feet in height and the latter reaching 12-16 feet in height. The former grow on dry and often rocky uplands and on slopes, while the latter grow in desert foothills or mesas at 1,500 to 3,500 feet elevation. Also known as sugarberry, honeyberry, bastard elm, or Granjeno, when planted and cared for, one variety or another will grow anywhere in the United States and southern Canada. They produce single berry-like fruit, 1/5 to 1/3 inch in diameter, ripening to yellow to red-orange. The fruit contain a large single seed surrounded by a thinly skinned, sweet layer of flesh. If watered well during formation and maturation, the berries ripen into an edible treat which can be ground (seeds and all) to make jam, used in baking, or made into wine. In dry years without supplemental watering, they are not worth gathering. In wet years, the berries are juicy, lucious and very sweet.
Taste the berries. If sweet and juicy, pick as many as you can reach. If hard and dry, forget it for another year. You'll need 3-4 pounds to make a gallon of wine, so don't eat too many while picking if you're in doubt as to yield. The recipe below will make a heavenly wine if the crop has merit.
Boil the water and dissolve half the sugar. Wash the berries, being sure to discard any bad or immature ones. Pour berries into primary and crush with sterilized end of baseball bat, 4X4 lumber, or other suitable device. Pour boiling water over berries and stir frequently while water cools to 70 degrees F. When water has cooled, add acid blend, tannin, crushed Campden tablet, and yeast nutrient. Cover and wait 12 hours, then add pectic enzyme. Wait another 12 hours and add yeast. Cover with muslin. Stir daily and ferment 5-7 days. Strain, add remaining sugar, stir well to dissolve, and siphon into secondary. Do not top up. Add airlock and set aside. Rack after 30 days, top up, and refit airlock. Rack again every 30 days (but at least twice) until wine clears. Rack again and allow to age in secondary additional two months. Rack again, stabilize, sweeten to taste (or leave dry), and bottle. Best if very slightly sweetened and served chilled. May taste after 6 months, but is better if aged a year. [Adapted from Dorothy Alatorre's Home Wines of North America]
My thanks to Alvin Danvis, III, location unknown, for the inquiry.