How to Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar

Red Wine Vinegar Made at Home

How to Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar

Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

This week, Cindy Pawlcyn shows us how to make red wine vinegar at home. Cindy is the author of the brand new book, Cindy’s Supper Club: Meals from Around the World to Share with Family and Friends.

Living here in the Napa Valley, we are surrounded by great wines, vineyards and winemakers. We often have leftover wine – some great, some not so great – cluttering up our counter. I can’t use leftover wine in cooking fast enough, so I turn to my vinegar crock and recycle the bottles.

I got my first copy of Simple French Food by Richard Olney in the mid-1970s. (The book has a section called “Miscellaneous Thoughts.

” (Oh, how often I have miscellaneous thoughts!  He describes in beautiful detail how to set up a “vinaigrier” using a wine barrel. The advantage of an oak wine barrel is the wonderful flavor of oak.

The disadvantage is that a barrel takes up a lot of space. I highly recommend Richard’s book as further reading.

Making vinegar is really very simple. For the science-minded, it involves facilitating the secondary fermentation of bacteria in an already fermented product. This second fermentation converts alcohol to acetic acid.

To make vinegar, you just need a good “mother,” and some wine to feed her. My vinegar mother was started in 1979 when I moved to the Napa Valley. It’s been going strong and has started many a pot since then.

I got my mother culture from a great bottle of French red wine vinegar, but if you have a friend who makes vinegar you can take a portion of his or her mother culture and it will grow again for both of you.

Be sure the vinegar is unpasteurized.

Vinegar mother is probably one of the most unattractive things on earth. It’s gelatinous, slimy, and has turned my pot the color of dark red wine.

The aroma is quite sharp when you first uncover it, but as it ages it becomes fruitier, with apple and “winery” as the two main scents. “Winery” is a scent you discover from living among them.

(Another local aroma comes at the end of crush, when all the grape skins, stems and seeds are composting. It smells a bit an old college bar in the morning.)

I use a ceramic crock, but a large canning jar will also work. The crock or jar needs to be in an open space with enough oxygen to fuel the fermentation. I cover my crock with a ceramic plate but you can also use cheesecloth or muslin and keep it in place with a string or rubber band. A fine weave will keep those pesky fruit flies out.

It takes ten days to two weeks for the mother culture to form. At that point you can strain off vinegar or continue to add wine as you have it.

To stop bacteria from growing in whatever you’re using the vinegar in, you’ll need to pasteurize the vinegar first. Simply heat it at about 160 degrees Fahrenheit (medium heat) for five minutes.

It should simmer and steam but not boil. Cool, strain and bottle.

Herb vinegar is amazing in meat marinades, salads with meat, soups and sauces. It’s truly a chef’s secret ingredient as a few drops can brighten a soup or sauce nothing else.

For herb vinegar, I pick one to one-and-a-half cups of whatever herb is looking the best in my garden. One of my favorites is flowering thyme. Wash and spin-dry the herb. Place it in a clean half-gallon canning jar and reserve. Warm a quart and a half of the basic vinegar and pour it over the herbs. Cover with cloth and store in a dark place for two weeks. Strain, bottle and label.

You can try homemade vinegar in some of the dishes from my new cookbook: Cindy’s Supper Club: Meals from Around the World to Share with Family and Friends. (Ten Speed Press, May 15, 2012).

Hearts of Palm, Arugula and Butter Lettuce Salad (Brazil, page 35), Mignonette for Oysters with Irish Soda Bread (Ireland, page 90), Forager’s Salad (Ireland, page 94), and Winter Double-Beet Salad (Greece, page 120) are all great showcases for homemade red wine vinegar.

Photos by Briana Forgie



How to Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar

There are three reasons to make red wine vinegar: taste, taste, and taste.   And there’s a possible fourth reason: it’s so easy. Some culinary folks suggest that turning wine into vinegar is a good way to use leftover wine from dinner or a party.

Leftover wine is an oxymoron; that doesn’t happen in my abode. So unfortunately, I have to start with a full bottle — less a glass, which is required, of course, to ensure quality. Homemade red wine vinegar is more delicate and has more complex flavors than mass-produced commercial vinegars.

A good red wine vinegar is just hard to find in the supermarket.

The process of turning wine into vinegar is simple.  The goal is to turn the alcohol and sugars in the wine into acetic acid by inducing oxygen and acidic bacteria or “Mother of Vinegar” into the wine. Here’s all you need to accomplish this magical feat:

  • Find the Mother of Vinegar.  Local wine- and beer-making shops often stock mother of vinegar, and there are numerous online suppliers, or better yet, snag some from a friend. A mother of vinegar is a slimy, gelatinous blob that encourages fermentation. If you have bought a bottle of raw apple cider vinegar, you’ve probably seen a leftover mother floating in the bottom of the jar. The cool thing about mothers is that during the process, they give birth to other mothers, which can be used for future batches of vinegar. The main thing about mothers are they are specific; if you are making red wine vinegar, it requires a mother specifically for red wine;  wise, white wine vinegar requires a mother specifically for white wine while a specific malt mother is required to make malt vinegar.
  • A gallon or half-gallon glass or ceramic container with a wide mouth.  Plastic containers are not recommended as plastic can interact with the vinegar. Yes, you’re right, commercial vinegar often is packaged in plastic containers; perhaps that is part of the quality issue.
  • Cheesecloth and a rubber band.
  • Patience!  The process takes about 2 months from start to finish.


  • 2 parts red wine
  • 1 part water
  • 1 part mother of vinegar


  • Clean the container, be sure to rinse thoroughly, invert and let dry.
  • Add red wine to container,
  • Add water
  • Add Mother of Vinegar, which jump-starts the fermentation. The container should only be filled to  2/3 to  3/4 capacity to provide surface area for oxygen to feed the mother.
  • Cover container with cheesecloth or other cloth and secure with a rubber band.

Store the container in a dark, warm area; ideally, the temperature should be between 70-80º F.  If you don’t have a dark area, you can cover the container with paper or cloth to keep the light out, but don’t cover the top because you want to allow the mixture to breath.

In a week or so a thin web- veil will form on the surface. That’s a good thing; it means the mother is doing her job.

Feed the mother ever week or so with a cup of wine. When you are taking a sample to taste or adding wine, gently move the mother aside.

When is it done? The real test is when the vinegar tastes good. Then strain it through a coffee filter to remove any sediment and store it in an airtight sterilized glass bottle. You can also keep the vinegar in the original container and simply take what you need straight from the crock, while continuing to add wine (about a cup or so a week) to keep the vinegar going.

Bacteria in the vinegar container will multiply over time, creating new mothers that will be floating around. Old mothers will sink to the bottom over time and will take up room at the bottom of the container. They will have a sponge- appearance and can be fished out carefully to provide space for more vinegar.

Once started, this process can be maintained for years by simply adding wine and occasionally cleaning out the mother from the bottom of the container.

Aged wine vinegar has a tawny reddish color, a clean but sharp aroma, and a subtly intense flavor. Red wine vinegars are a ubiquitous ingredient in salad dressings, stews or slow-roasted dishes.

Caution: don’t get carried away with vinegar madness or you’ll be bottling your tasty vinegar in adorable vintage bottles and selling it at the local farmers’ and flea markets.


Adapted from: “How to Make your own Red Wine Vinegar,” Bon Appetit,  January 31, 2013.


In the Kitchen with Jarod: Make a Mother of Vinegar

How to Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar

Last week, Jarod gave us some ideas of what to do with stale bread. This week he’ll be explaining how to turn old or undrinkable wine into a mother of vinegar, and then how to make vinegar from the mother.About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a dinner party given by Jarod.

My boyfriend and I brought a bottle of wine to share, but were disappointed when it was found to be “corked” — a term given to unopened wine that has that vinegary, wet-dog-musty-cave taste associated with the presence of 2,4,6 Trichloroanisole.

(While the cork is often thought to be culpable, other variables such as the barrel and storage conditions can also be the cause.) Jarod didn’t miss a beat, he grabbed the wine, added a splash of vinegar, put the cork back in and placed the bottle atop his fridge saying, “No problem, I’ll make it into mother of vinegar.

“Mother of vinegar?” we asked, wide-eyed.

“What’s that?” Mother of vinegar (MOV or Mother for shorthand purposes) is essentially a fermenting bacteria culture used to make vinegar — an acetobacter that develops in fermenting alcohol and converts the ethanol into acetic acid (what gives vinegar its sour taste) in the presence of oxygen. Fermenting bacteria can be found in other food products kombucha, sourdough, and, well, in vinegar. 

MATERIALS AND TOOLSYour old wine, 16oz or so for the Mother, and more when you make your vinegarVinegar, just a splashIodine, for sterilizationStorage vessel, such as ice tea containerSterilized containers, for bottling your vinegarCheesecloth & rubber bandRipe fruit, to feed your MotherOptional: fine sieve, funnel, fruit juice

Make Your Mother

To make an MOV, take your corked or leftover wine (red is most common, but you can use white), and add a splash (tablespoon) of red wine or apple cider vinegar. Re-cork the bottle and put it somewhere dark and warm to encourage the bacteria to attack residual sugar in the wine and start the fermentation process. Temperature is not entirely crucial, but a good rule of thumb is: if you are comfortable, the MOV will be too. You want to ensure that light does not hit the bottle, as this will slow fermentation. This takes about 2 months. Be sure to leave the bottle totally undisturbed, so don’t move or check on it during fermentation or the process won’t work.

Note: If for some reason it doesn’t work, or if you just don’t want to wait 2 months for maturity, you can buy MOV in a tub from a wine supply store.

Slowly pour the contents of the bottle into bowl. Mother, when she is ready, is not very pretty. It should have bacteria strands in it, and be a bit gloppy. There will also be some vinegar here that you can filter out with a fine sieve or coffee filter into another bowl to transfer to bottle. But don’t throw any sludge away, this is your starter, your Mother. While not particularly appetizing, it is not harmful; just a bacteria chain hungry for your leftovers.

Make More Vinegar

Now that you have your MOV, you’ll want to feed it to make regular vinegar. Transfer your culture to a storable container with a wide mouth, a crock. Another good vessel to use is a glass beverage container with a spigot, for iced tea. Stainless steel is OK to use, but tin and aluminum are not; plastics are not encouraged. In the container, combine with your MOV some fruits that might be on the way out — berries, apples, pears and pit fruits are all good choices, even tomatoes. Whatever you add will contribute to the overall flavor, so be mindful that while a banana will make the entire batch bannanariffic and somewhat overwhelming, an overripe mango might be more your speed. Now add enough liquid (an inexpensive bottle of wine, or the dregs of the half finished glasses of wine you’ve been saving in your refrigerator) to cover the fruit you’ve given Mother. You can also use fresh fruit juices in addition to the wine. Store bought bottle juice is not a good idea as it has preservatives that inhibit fermentation.Be sure the container is covered but can breathe (one idea is to securely replace the lid with cheesecloth), and put the mix in a warm dark place once again, checking on it every week. Continue to add liquid as needed. A bit of scum will form on top as the process continues. Just scrape it off before you add more to the mix. Again, this is not harmful, it’s just the bacteria creating it’s own perfect environment.

Note: When you add liquid, your vinegar will be diluted until the bacteria can catch back up, so if you’re in the mood for the sharp stuff, you’ll have to give the mix some time. I recommend tasting at 6 weeks and going from there.

Your VinegarOnce the vinegar is to your liking, pour from the spigot and bottle it in small, sterilized, airtight vessels. Or if your container has spigot envy, just ladle and strain, then bottle. If you don’t want the sediment, filter again with a fine sieve or coffee filter. If you wish to pasteurize the vinegar (render the acetobacter inactive), you can heat it at 150˚F for a half hour in a clean pot — then you don’t have to worry about an airtight container. You can also add fresh herbs to the bottles if you . This will not only make your vinegar look pretty, but infuse it with the yummy herb flavor.Your Mother will continue to work and grow as you add to it. At some point you’ll have more mother than room for vinegar. Here’s the rub: you can share! Scrape some into a container and give some to your friends. This provides you the room needed to begin another batch and helps your friends with their own mother of vinegar.Learn more about home-fermented starters in the pages of CRAFT:

CRAFT 01: Hard Cider, page 143

CRAFT 02: Kombucha Madness, page 101CRAFT 03: One-Week Wine, page 102

CRAFT 04: Get a Rise Sourdough, page 118

CRAFT 06: Fig Wine, page 111
CRAFT 06: Natto Beans, page 114CRAFT 09: Red Wine Vinegar, page 111

How-To Make Homemade Gingerale

About the Author

Jarod Hermann is a recovering Chef living in San Francisco. He is now open about his food preferences and liberally applies them to his friends and family. He also plays musical instruments.


WILD KITCHEN + APOTHECARY — Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar

How to Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar

This red wine vinegar was produced from merlot and cabernet wine. Photo: Katherine Keller

A savory entrée or sweet dessert is elevated by a splash of acid. Sometimes that’s lemon or lime juice. Both serve well to brighten flavor, add depth or contrast, or to balance sweetness. 

On some occasions, I find, a more interesting choice to be red wine vinegar. Good red wine vinegar, that is.

Red wine vinegars found in grocery stores are mostly unpalatable. Too salty, chemical-, or with weird additives in the ingredients list.

Happily, making your own red wine vinegar is simple and results in a splendid product. 

There are at least four methods to ferment red wine, I recommend two because of their ease and simplicity. One is using a “vinegar mother” and the other is using unpasteurized vinegar. Both provide the organisms that activate the fermentation process that transform wine to vinegar. 

A vinegar mother is similar to a kombucha mother, which Nicole Schanen wrote about in a previous Wild Kitchen column.

Mother is the term used to describe a colony of beneficial bacteria, or both bacteria and yeast, that produces fermentation.

These microorganisms produce the mother, thin layers of cellulose, a pale yellow or white gelatinous material that is rubbery and slippery.
To fermenters, it’s magic.

To fermenters a kombucha mother is beautiful and magical. On the other hand, to the uninitiated, it might look something from Victor Frankenstein’s lab. This is a kombucha mother that was dyed red from a three-month soak in red wine. Photo: Katherine Keller

On the other hand, to the uninitiated, it may look something from Victor Frankenstein’s lab.

You can purchase a vinegar mother online, or you may be able to find one locally, if you can find a group of fermenters.

A vinegar mother is not exactly the same as a kombucha mother although Sandor Katz, fermentation expert and progenitor of the contemporary fermentation revival, notes that “many people have observed that the kombucha mother is identical, or virtually so, to the mother of vinegar.”

I have made wonderful red wine vinegar using a kombucha mother, but most vinegar recipes recommend using a vinegar mother or unpasteurized vinegar.

To make your own red wine vinegar you will need a bottle of red wine, water, a vinegar mother of unpasteurized vinegar, a vessel, cheesecloth, and kitchen twine or a rubber band. And patience. Water is optional. Some recipes include water. Personally, I don’t add water.

The author’s fermentation crock was created by a Madison potter in the 1990’s. A new batch of red wine vinegar is brewing under the lid that permits the contents “to breathe.” Photo: Katherine Keller

A wide-mouth half-gallon mason jar, a glazed food-safe clay pot or fermenting vessel are ideal, but a glass or ceramic mixing bowl will work, too. Do not use a metal container because the acidity of the wine and vinegar interacts with the metal.

You definitely want to use a vessel with a wide opening. When it is time to remove the vinegar mother, it will allow you to extract the mother using your hand, tongs, or a slotted spoon. 

I’ve made vinegar in a mason jar and in a fermentation crock. You can cover it with a double layer of cheesecloth fastened with kitchen twine or a rubber band. I’ve used a paper coffee filter with good results. The cover should allow airflow and exclude insects.

Wine — choose dry or sweet. The inexpensive brands make perfectly lovely vinegar, I find. A good rule of thumb is, if you the wine, you’ll the vinegar yet the finer the wine, the finer the vinegar.

If you don’t use a mother, Bragg’s apple cider vinegar is a good choice. It is unpasteurized and available in most grocery stores.

I hope you’ll try making your own red wine vinegar. If you do, send me photos and tell me how you’re using your vinegar:

Red Wine Vinegar


1 750 ml bottle of red wine

2 cups filtered water (optional)

1.5 cups unpasteurized cider vinegar (or a vinegar mother)


  1. Wash your hands well before you begin. Wash the vessel in hot water and either allow it to air dry or use a clean towel to dry it.
  2. Pour the wine into your fermentation vessel. Shake or stir to aerate.
  3. If you elect to use the optional water, add it now.
  4. Add the vinegar or mother.
  5. Cover with two layers of cheesecloth and fasten with string or a rubber band.

Store in a cool, dark place, 55º to 80º, undisturbed. A basement is ideal, but good alternatives are a shelf in a closet or an undercounter kitchen cabinet. 

After a month, begin tasting it. Temperature affects the rate of fermentation, but in general, it will take two to three months for your wine to become vinegar. Trust your palate to tell you that your wine has become vinegar.

You can feed your fermenting wine with red or white wine, at two- to three-week intervals. Add ¼ cup or so and don’t stir. Replenishing adds vigor to the fermentation process because you’re providing more of the food the micro-organisms consume.

Warning: In the unly event that black, green, or red mold forms on the surface of the wine, throw it out and start over.

Decant by removing the mother and filtering. (The longer the fermentation, the thicker the mother grows.)

I filter my vinegar through a paper cone-shaped coffee filter, but you can use a fine sieve.

To prevent the vinegar from continuing to ferment, pasteurize it by heating it to 155 degrees, but no higher, for 30 minutes.

Use the vinegar immediately or store for a month or more to allow it to mellow.

Save the mother by storing it in an air-tight covered container. Cover with at least an inch of vinegar. Store it in a cupboard or in your fridge. With very clean hands, peel off layers or snip off 3-inch pieces to share with friends.


Vinegar: How to Make It at Home

How to Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar

Most commercial red wine vinegar is made using a speeded-up fermentation process (anywhere from 1 to 3 days); some of it is just lab-produced acetic acid, diluted with water and tinted red.

Traditional red wine vinegar, left to ferment naturally on its own, takes several weeks and results in a much richer texture and flavor.

The good news: It’s easy to make at home, and makes a great and unusual gift, too.


1 playing-card–size piece vinegar mother*

9 1/2 cups red wine, divided, plus more for maintenance feedings


1. Start the mother: Put the mother and 2 cups wine in a vinegar crock* and pour in 1 cup water. Cover the open top of the crock with a double layer of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band around the rim.  Put the container in a warm place (the ideal temperature for vinegar is 70° and 90°) direct sunlight; you can swaddle them in towels if you , or put in a paper bag.

2. In 1 ½ weeks (maybe 2 weeks if it’s chilly weather), the bacterial conversion will have begun. Add 2 ½ cups red wine now, and twice more over the next 1 ½ weeks.

3. Vinegar is ready when it smells and tastes vinegar: strong, sharp, and delicious. Homemade vinegar is exhilaratingly strong, so you may want to dilute it with a little water before using. If it smells furniture polish, throw it away; it’s been contaminated and can’t be saved.

4. To continue growing your vinegar, just add 1 or 2 cups red wine every few weeks or so, tasting now and then to see whether it’s ready to bottle (if you want to bottle).

Every several weeks, you’ll need to clean out the extra layers of mother that form and sink to the bottom (otherwise they’ll absorb all the vinegar). To do this, simply wash your hands well and plunge in.

Leave the top layer behind.

5. To bottle the vinegar, strain it through a cheesecloth-lined plastic colander into clean bottles. Add water to dilute the sharpness if you , and keep in the refrigerator. It is still “live”, but the cold will keep a new mother from forming in the bottle.

6. If you want to pasteurize the vinegar to store at room temperature, fill a 21-qt. boiling-water canner with hot water up to the first ring from the bottom, insert the canning rack upside down (handles down), and bring it to a boil, covered.

Meanwhile, strain vinegar through a cheesecloth-lined colander into a large stainless-steel pot. Insert a clean deep-fry thermometer into vinegar and lower pot into boiling water. Turn off heat.

Let vinegar heat to 155°; hold it there for 30 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed.

7. For room-temperature storage, pour the vinegar through a funnel into sterilized jars.


Vinegar mother. In the world of vinegar, a “mother” is a live starter, similar to a sourdough starter for bread. It is home to acetic acid-producing bacteria of the Acetobacter genus that convert wine to vinegar.

The mother will form a not-unpleasant and actually quite fascinating thin, somewhat firm gelatinous layer on the surface of your vinegar crock. This is a sign that the bacteria are alive and well and doing their work. Find vinegar mothers from vinegar-making friends, at cheesemaking or beermaking supply shops, and online.

To transport a fresh piece of mother given to you by a friend, put it in a little glass jar with a 50-50 mix of wine and water. Commercial products are sold in jars, ready to be used.

Vinegar crock. The best fermenting containers allow for a wide surface area and have an open top, so the bacteria have enough oxygen. They’re also enclosed, to keep out light (the bacteria are happiest in the dark).

A 1-gallon iced-tea jar, shrouded in a towel, can work, but wide-mouthed canning jars are too narrow.  The best containers are 5-liter Italian demijohns (find at or 1-gallon clay crocks (find at

The clay crocks have the added advantage of mellowing the new vinegar’s sharp acidity.


5 Red Wine Vinegar Substitutes You Need to Have in Your Pantry

How to Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar

Red wine vinegar substitutes can be found in your own pantry. However, you need to know what to substitute and when!

Every chef dreads the moment when he reaches for some ingredient, only to find an empty carton. Oftentimes, there is not enough time to make a trip to the grocery store, or the ingredient itself may not be easily available. At such times, ingredient substitution can come in handy.

Vinegar is one such ingredient that is widely used and substituted in cooking. The choice of vinegar greatly depends upon the taste of natives. Red wine vinegar is often preferred by the French for vinaigrettes and marinades. This vinegar is tangy and makes for great salad dressing.

Red Wine

Red wine vinegar is essentially a fermentation product of red wine, you can safely substitute red wine for certain recipes that demand red wine vinegar. The acidic properties of red wine vinegar are due to the work of bacteria called acitobacter, during the process of fermentation.

Red wine can be substituted for vinaigrette and marinade recipes. However, salad dressing may not emulsify if you do not add vinegar to it. In that case, a small amount of whisked mustard can prevent the salad dressing from breaking.

You cannot substitute red wine for recipes that demand acidic properties of vinegar for denaturing proteins.

Red Wine + White Vinegar

For recipes that do not work with red wine, a mixture of red wine and white vinegar is a good option. White vinegar renders the acidic properties required for the recipe while red wine imparts the flavor similar to red wine vinegar. White vinegar also makes the dish nice and tangy.

Go on adding vinegar only in small quantities, until desired flavor is achieved. This substitution works only one way. Meaning, you cannot substitute red wine vinegar in place of red wine, as red wine is too mild and adding red wine vinegar to a dish can make it too sour and acidic.

Red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar are interchangeable in most recipes.

Other Vinegars

Substituting vinegar does not alter the taste of the dish substantially. However, this is true only if the recipe demands a little use of vinegar. Balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar can all be substituted for red wine vinegar.

However, it is recommended that you only add a little portion of any of these vinegars and see what difference it makes to your recipe. If the vinegar imparts undesirable flavor to the recipe or alters the taste of the dish, then you might have to go for the real thing.

For salad dressings, you can substitute 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar with 1 tbsp red wine for every 4 tbsp red wine vinegar.

Lime or Lemon Juice

If the recipe does not demand special flavor peculiar to red wine vinegar only, then you might use lime or lemon juice in lieu of red wine vinegar. Lime or lemon juice provides the required acidic properties to the recipe. It is a great substitute for red wine vinegar when you only intend to acidulate water.

Tamarind Paste

Tamarind paste has good protein denaturing properties. Hence, can be used for marinating meat, sea food etc. Tamarind paste is often used in Asian, particularly Indian cuisine. Another red wine vinegar substitute native to India is amchoor powder. You can find it in any store specializing in Indian spices.