Make Plum Wine from Local Unripe Plums

Make Plum Wine from Local Unripe Plums

I’m sure you’ve seen the “tiny” plum trees around in the Bay Area. Not tiny trees, but trees that produce tiny plums.

If you have one of those plum trees in your yard, or know of a “wild” plum tree somewhere nearby, you may have picked them, snacked on them, and even used them in jams in jellies. I know that here in Brisbane, we have many of these trees where the fruit is about the size of a small cherry, and the flavor is tart until it’s suddenly bland (when overripe). It’s definitely not a favorite fruit of mine.

Unripe green plums on a tree branch
Some of our plums, still green but full size and close ripening. It’s the perfect time to make plum wine!

Our yard has one such tree and I have struggled to make use of the not-great, tedious-to-use, annoyingly abundant fruit every year. I have made so much jam. My family doesn’t even EAT jam. All my mason jars of full of that useless stuff. I just hate wasting the fruit!

Thankfully this last year, I happened upon a recipe for Japanese plum wine. While we may not enjoy sweet jams, my husband, friends, and I enjoy sweet alcoholic drinks. The tangy, subtle flavor and almost syrupy mouthfeel of Japanese plum wine makes it a special treat (and, indeed, it should be consumed in small quantities unless you like hangover headaches). It’s also great in cocktails that let the flavor shine but add sparkle and/or contrast to those delicate plum notes.

Have you never had plum wine? If you enjoy sweet alcoholic drinks, like gimlets, port, sweet German wines, or mead, then I think you would love plum wine.

Traditional Japanese plum wine is made from 3 ingredients:

  1. Unripe “Umeshu” plums
  2. Shochu, a white, unflavored hard liquor
  3. Rock Sugar (think rock candy without the stick)

Last year, I experimented with a Bay Area recipe to make plum wine. I used:

  1. Unripe tiny green plums
  2. Vodka
  3. Rock Sugar

After about 9 months, we tested our wine, and it was sweet, thick, and delicious! The plums that grow so well here do just fine in flavoring the wine, so I made an even larger batch this year.

Plum wine on the day it was made and how it looked 9 months later
On the left, the day I put the 3 ingredients together. On the right, how the jar looked before it was opened, with sugar still settled on the bottom.

If you are looking for a simple, quick recipe to use up unripe plums, this is for you!

Local Plum Wine Recipe (Gallon-sized)

Plum wine ingredients and equipment, including Vodka, unripe plums, rock sugar, and a jar
Vodka, unripe plums, and rock sugar are the only ingredients in this tasty treat.

Ingredients

2 lbs + 2 oz green, whole, unripe plums
1.75 L Vodka or other clear, flavorless drinking alcohol
1 lb + 12 oz Rock Sugar (or less, if you prefer less sweetness. I recommend no less than 1 lb)

Equipment

A large, clean, glass gallon jar (I used a Costco-sized pickle jar)

Method

  1. Rinse and dry the plums, removing any that have bruises or are soft and almost ripe. DO NOT remove the pits!
  2. Starting with plums and ending with rock sugar, create 2 or 3 layers in the jar.
  3. Pour the vodka or other alcohol over the plums and sugar.
  4. Seal the jar, label it with the date, and place in a cool, dark place (not the fridge) for at least six months.
My gallon jar with 3 layers of plums and 3 layers of rock sugar.
My gallon jar with 3 layers of plums and 3 layers of rock sugar.

What if I want to make a smaller amount?
To make plum wine in a quart-sized glass jar, use these ingredient measurements:
1/2 lb green, whole, unripe plums
.4 L (about 15 oz) Vodka or other clear, flavorless drinking alcohol
7 oz Rock Sugar

Quart jars of plum wine being made
Quart jars work just fine.

Why Rock Sugar and not regular sugar?
Rock sugar will take longer to melt into the vodka, slowly adding sweetness just as the plums’ flavors are slowly extracted. While you can use regular sugar, it was not recommended by any recipes I found. Also, rock sugar looks cooler.

White Lump Candy or ROck Sugar
The Rock Candy I bought from Ranch 99 Market.

Where can I buy Rock Sugar?
Any local pan-Asian market should carry rock sugar. I recommend using the white variety, since it will not add additional color to the wine. I found mine at the Ranch 99 in Daly City (store website) labeled “White Lump Candy.”

Rock Sugar is available online as well, but is way more expensive. A pound of Rock Sugar from Ranch 99 was under $3, but online it is rarely under $5/lb and then you have to pay for shipping.

Can I just buy unripe plums?
There are Japanese markets that will seasonally (usually in May) sell actual Umeshu plums for making wine. These do require a bit more work, as they need to have their stem areas removed, but they are also larger plums.

Dated lid from this year's plum wine jar
See you in 2022, plum wine!


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