The major goal in making wine vinegar is the same, regardless of the technique chosen. That goal is to convert alcohol into acetic acid and water. The process, called acetic fermentation, takes place when the proper bacteria and oxygen are introduced to wine. The bacteria “eat” the alcohol in the wine and, in “digesting” it, produce vinegar. A good vinegar maker knows how to manipulate and harness this process to produce something delicious.
Traditional Wine Vinegar Making
The traditional method of making wine vinegar was developed in
There are several reasons that the
The solera method of making vinegar is also a traditional method. Like the
Modern Vinegar Making
Modern vinegar making uses two things not present in a traditional system, namely heat and movement. The modern methods start with a large stainless steel tank. It is filled with wine, bacteria are introduced and the mixture is heated to 80F to 100F. Air is pumped through the tank to excite fermentation. The wine, bacteria and air produce a rapid, forced fermentation. This method can generate 8,000 gallons of vinegar in a day. Wood chips may be added to the tank for flavoring. Although it involves a more complex control system, tanks can also be setup for continuous flow. In this scenario, wine constantly added to a pressurized tank that has been filled with wood chips and other filling material. The necessary bacteria live in the filling material. As the wine flows to the other end of the system it undergoes fermentation and becomes vinegar during its journey. It takes wine about three days to flow through a system like this, but once it is started the system continuously produces vinegar.
The advantage to the systems described above is that they produce inexpensive vinegar in a short period of time. The long production times of the traditional methods involve more risk that something could go wrong. However, a mass-produced vinegar does not have the aroma or flavor of traditionally-made vinegar. The heat used in the process robs the vinegar of the bouquet that can be contributed by the wine. Likewise, mechanical methods cannot duplicate the flavors made when fermenting with little movement in an oak barrel. A traditionally made vinegar, like other aged products (i.e. scotch), develops a smooth, mellow flavor with unmatched aroma and richness.