"The sap will be running soon in the sugar maples. Do you have a recipe for sugar maple wine?"Randy Buckles, Canton, Ohio
When the days shorten in the fall, all deciduous trees begin storing sugar in their roots as food for the coming winter and to provide their initial growth of leaves the following spring. As the days begin to warm in late winter, the trees send that sugar upwards in their sap. Two trees tend to produces sweeter and more plentiful sap than all others -- the birch and the maple.
The best known by-products of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), aside from it's wood, are maple syrup and maple sugar. Both are made by collecting the sweet sap and cooking it down to a syrup or even further into sugar. But the sap also makes a very fine wine.
Sugar maples are found throughout the mid-west and northeastern United States and much of southeastern Canada. But other maples can also yield a sweet sap from which you cam make wine. These include the black sugar maple (Acer nigrum), the silver maple (Acer saccharinum), and the red maple (Acer rubrum). The black sugar maple has three-lobed leaves instead of the five lobes of the sugar maple, but its sap is every bit as sweet and plentiful as the sugar maple's sap. The silver maple looks similar to the sugar but ranges a bit farther south and sports red flowers in the spring. Its sap is also very sweet but not as plentiful as the sap of the sugar maple. The red maple ranges from Canada to Texas, prefers wet lowlands and swamps, and produces a sap less sweet and less plentiful than the sugar maple but still suitable for winemaking.
Tapping the trees to harvest the sap is beyond the scope of this recipe, but there are many how-to articles posted on the web if you do not know how to do it. As an alternative, you can buy fresh maple sap from a commercial sugarbush. If you collect the sap yourself, in the interest of preserving the health of these great trees, I encourage you to tap no tree under a foot in diameter, to gather no more than a gallon of sap from any one tree, and to be sure to seal the hole with a piece of cork or tapered stick after removing the spile-tap. If you follow these three simple rules the tree will available for decades of future tapping.
First measure the specific gravity of the sap with a hydrometer to determine how much sugar to add to achieve a starting specific gravity of 1.085-1.090. Different saps will contain different amounts of natural sugar, and even the sap from the same tree will differ from year to year. In an enamel- or teflon-coated pot, stir the required amount of sugar into the maple sap and bring to a low boil for 15 minutes, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. In a separate pan, combine a cup of the sap with the cloves and zest of the lemon(s) and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the latter into a primary and add the boiled sap, juice from the lemon(s) and yeast nutrient. When cooled to 75° F., add the activated yeast. Cover the primary and stir daily for 8-10 days. Transfer to a secondary and fit airlock. Ferment to dryness (6-8 weeks), rack into a sanitized secondary, refit the airlock and bulk age 12 months, checking airlock from time to time to make sure it doesn't dry out. Rack, sweeten if desired and bottle. [Adapted recipe from Steven A. Krause's Wines from the Wilds]
My thanks to Randy Buckles of Canton, Ohio, for requesting this recipe.