This season, the Columbia Farmers Market welcomed an “old-world” vendor with a modern vision. In their private orchard and winery nestled alongside Cedar Creek just south of Ashland, John and Heather Uhlig have cultivated and nurtured acres of elderberry plants, replacing tired fescue with blooming fruitage, and giving themselves new direction after retirement.

Together, they make and bottle elderberry juices and wines under the brand ElderBlossom View, a moniker that echoes a breath of new life for both them and their fields. “Part of the reason that we chose this and came up with the name ElderBlossom View is simply because it’s something old made new again,” John says. “That’s kind of the way we look at elderberry.” On Saturdays, the couple shares this wisdom, and their products (except for the wine) at the Columbia Farmers Market. “The farmers' market has been the first step off the farm to the table for us,” Heather says. “It has been really astonishing to us because so many people are interested in what we’re making. They appreciate how it improves what they want in their lives.”

Elderberry, and elderwood, has been around for centuries in Europe and the Americas, and is at the center of many folkloric and medicinal tales. Centuries ago in Europe, children would buy cups of hot elderberry in winter to treat a cold, and townspeople would hang elderberry branches above doors to ward away evil spirits. These stories are old, but there are new ones to be told – modern elderberry research continues to blossom, revealing ties to improved health and wellness. “It’s a superfruit,” Heather says. “It’s good for jelly, wine, juice; it’s a healthy thing to incorporate into your diet.”

That’s what they hope their juices, which they offer in four varieties, do for the local community. Three juices are made from the elderberry, and one is made from its flower. Elderflower nectar is a sweet, sunny syrup that’s flavored with elderflower extract and lemon juice. “It’s great as an amendment to making a cocktail or a glass of Champagne,” John says. Elderberry Relief, bottled with or without ginger, is meant to soothe a sore throat, or promote good health. The pure elderberry juice can be sipped on its own or used as a mix for a cocktail or non-alcoholic drink.

Before the juices were born and bottled, John and Heather began perfecting elderberry wine. Years of amateur winemaking meant John was familiar with the process, but had much to learn about the berry itself. “When we started making elderberry wine, our idea from the get-go was that we’d blend it with Norton, because that’s what we liked – dry, full-bodied reds.” John says. “We started blending it with elderberry, and we were calling it ‘True Romance’ because it really went well together. But it wasn’t long before we realized that the elderberry was great on its own; we didn’t need to blend it.” Now, ElderBlossom View offers two unique bottles of elderberry wine, semi-dry and dry, each a representative blend of the year’s harvest of seven different varieties of elderberries that grow in the orchard.

“There’s definitely a distinct flavor difference between the varieties,” John says. “I keep track of the harvest, so I know how many pounds of each varietal we have, and so when we make our juices and wines and everything, I try to take the blend that matches our harvest that year… it’s going to make different years taste different because of those blends. I think that’s to our advantage in a way.” Many have mistaken the deep flavor and full-bodied texture of ElderBlossom's elderberry for a grape wine, John says. In the first year of public production, both wines have already received bronze and silver awards from the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in New York, and recently earned silver medals from the San Francisco-based USA Wine Ratings competition. For now, ElderBlossom View wine can only be bought straight from the winery itself by appointment, or through its website. John and Heather also plan on opening the winery to the public soon on Sundays from 2 to 4pm.

They have a few other plans in the works, too. “We are in the process of making elderberry wine vinegar,” John says. “A lot of people just take the vinegar and add elderberry to the vinegar, but we’re actually taking the elderberry wine all the way to a vinegar; it’s just a slow process. Our goal is by fall to have that completed.”

In the future, they also hope to craft ciders and white wine, extracting as much of the long-celebrated flavors and health benefits of the berry as they can. “What’s interesting about the elderberry is how tenacious it is,” Heather says. “When you think of your grandparents, they had to forage for it, they’d find it in ditches, cemeteries, edges of fields, and it just has a way of hanging on. It’s been around for thousands of years.” Looking into their own years ahead, John and Heather hope to continue cultivating curiosity about the elderberry. For now, find John and Heather’s products at the ElderBlossom View booth on Saturdays at the Columbia Farmers Market, or online, and be sure to set up your chance to try a taste of this new old-world fruit.

ElderBlossom View, elderblossomview.com

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Jessica is a freelance writer based in Columbia, Missouri. She lives by the words of M.F.K. Fisher: "First we eat, then we do everything else."

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