Linda Baldwin's Q & A on Vinegar
so often the question "how does one make vinegar from left over wine?"
pops up on Internet wine bulletin boards. Fellow Internet wine geek and vinegar-maker, Linda Baldwin,
took the time one day to answer this question and has given me permission to use
it here. Note her vinegar barrels above...
By Linda Baldwin
Thanks to Kim who was kind enough to send me (by USPS even!) articles on
vinegar making a year or two ago. It was such fun getting to know her last
month at MoCool....we were the Vinegar Ladies. Anyhow, since I started
reading stuff on vinegar, I swear no two articles say the same thing. What
I've learned mostly is that there's nothing very scientific (or artistic)
about making vinegar. Mainly, don't starve your mother, add some wine every
couple weeks, amount isn't too important, but the bigger the batch, the
more I'll add. Or little remnants of leftovers each night. Use some common
sense....if you double the volume each time you feed her, she'll never have
time to eat it all and put out enough acid proportionally. Give it air
but keep the bugs out, cheesecloth is good, I use an old linen napkin. Keep
it at room temp, not in the fridge. Dark is probably good for a good rich
color of end product.
Now I'll try to hit on the questions I had at the beginning that I never
got definitive answers for along with the best I can do with answers from
How long does it take to get vinegar?
Damfino. If you get mother from a
shop or a friend along with a little vinegar, it'll smell like vinegar from
the beginning. If you add an equal amount or more of wine, it won't be acid
enough. Just keep tasting it every couple weeks. More at the end on starting your own mother from scratch.
2. What do you do when you're ready to use it?
Early on, when you don't
have much, like just a quart or two, siphon out just what you want to use
at the time. If you're concerned about continuous use, just feed small
amounts daily so the acid won't drop too quickly and it'll be able to keep
up. At this stage, you can't afford to give any away as gifts. Then there'll come the day when you've opened a bottle
(of wine) that is just too simple to hold your interest but it's really fruity. Dump the whole thing in and
do without vinegar for a couple weeks, especially if this doubled your
volume. Be patient. Now, after you've built yourself a gallon or two that's
ready to go, pour it all through a sieve, not for filtering but to separate
the mother, there will be several. Filter a quart or so of the vinegar and
as Kim said, filter through coffee filters, put it in a jar with a lid so
it doesn't get air. There may be some teeny bits of mother that get through
and you don't want mother to start growing again in what you've bottled.
Dump the remainder of the vinegar back in the crock or barrel along with a
big handful or two of the softest of the mother (looks just like afterbirth). I think that's the youngest and hungriest. If you have enough
to share, give a half cup mother with equal vinegar to a friend.
3. When is the acid high enough?
First taste it, but don't suck in any air
as you're sucking in vinegar because you'll cough your head off from the
acid. You'll be impatient to make a vinaigrette, so go ahead, but add about
1/4 of your normal proportion of oil at first and taste again, continuing
to add oil till it suits your taste.
4. Why do some people say you have to add an equal part water with the
Two reasons, neither of which suit me so I don't add any water
with feedings. First, wine has so much alcohol that the mother produces too
high acidity. True, the acid can get high, but I'd rather cut the final
product with water or wine (better) if necessary....I've never done that
though, just add extra oil to a vinaigrette. Second, someone told me that
straight wine will eventually kill the mother. Dunno, never happened here.
5. Should you ever empty the barrel and start over?
I wouldn't do that
because my vinegar has improved noticeably in flavor over the couple years
I've been doing it. I leave at least half the working vinegar in the
barrel. You can remove some vinegar and mother and start a new batch, but
you'll end up with vessels of vinegar all over the house.
6. What kind of wine is best for feeding?
I think the fruitiest leaves the
vinegar with the best flavor. IMO young wine is usually better than old.
NEVER add white wine. NEVER add even a drop of corked wine, I swear I
think the corkiness grows.
7. What do I do if I've had a tasting or a party and there's way too much
wine to dump in at once? Consolidate the wine into bottles, recork them,
and keep in the fridge. If it isn't going to stay for months, the cellar's
OK too. Non geek friendly party wines are especially good in vinegar, so
don't waste it.
8. Is white wine vinegar done the same way? Yes, but I was unsuccessful in
making my own mother. Bob Henrick from KY sent me some of his mother. It
took months for the mother to reproduce herself. Fortunately he told me it
was much slower so I didn't give up. Next to this golden goodie, store
bought white vinegar tastes like water.
9. How do I make my own mother?
Y'know how San Francisco sourdough is
better (more sour) than most others? Well, it's the particular strain of
beasties in the Bay Area air that can take the credit. I have my own
personal theory here. Even if you get real SF starter, after a while of
using and feeding it in some other state, you'll have your own unique
sourdough because the new beasties aren't the same as the SF ones. Same
with vinegar I think. I was told (after I got mine started) to start with a
wine low in sulfites because sulfites will inhibit or prevent growth. I
have no idea what I started with. I filled a mayo jar half full of red wine
and waited and waited...Then there was something like an oil slick that
formed on the top and it started to smell sort of like varnish. This must
have happened several weeks to a month later. This was encouraging, but
shortly thereafter light gray-blue-green mold-looking stuff formed on the
top. I threw it out and started over. Same thing happened the next time and
I just skimmed out the "mold." Less grew this time, and a couple more
skimmings and it was all gone never to return. I wish I could remember how
long it took, but it really doesn't matter. Maybe a couple months before
the mother started forming. Kim's picture is excellent.
10. Would aging in an oak barrel be beneficial and how big a barrel should
I get? I think oak gives vinegar a depth and weight that glass or ceramic
can't. The barrels are expensive, but the price/volume drops considerably
as you get larger barrels. I got a 1 and a 3 gallon barrel, outgrew the 1
gallon in no time. I do the whole process in a barrel, but you could just
as easily wait till the vinegar's done and age it in the barrel after
filtering. Of course then you'd have to wait, and I don't know how long. I
now use my 1 gal barrel for white vinegar. Oh, I wouldn't bother having a
spout put on, it clogs with mother most of the time so it's useless for
drawing out vinegar. I think 3 gal for red vinegar is just right if you
want to give some away and also have vinegar ready all the time. Generally
the feedings are so small in proportion to the amount of existing vinegar
that the acid level doesn't drop too much and it'll come back up pretty