The first time I tried to make red wine vinegar, I used the very large (2 gallon, I think) crock you see in the background, and the exposed surface area was just too great: most of the alcohol evaporated before the mother could really get going, and instead of fermentation, I had a seriously bad case of mold. My only recourse was to throw the whole thing out. I kept the crock, obviously.
Making vinegar at home is supposed to be a pretty brainless process, so I was discouraged for a while and didn’t want to order another pedigreed vinegar mother just to pour it down the drain. But then the very lovely Harry from the Brooklyn Kitchen generously gave me some of his, and so I tried again.
This time I used a gallon jar with a smaller mouth. As before, I covered the top with just a clean dishtowel to keep flies out. I keep the jar in the crock to keep the light out, as acetobacter prefers, and stow the whole thing in a dark, warm corner of the kitchen.
I started this batch on December 23 and have been feeding it every few weeks with a cup or so of diluted red wine — only the good stuff! If I wouldn’t drink it, why would I want it in my salad? And I taste it every so often and fish the mat of mother that forms on the top out and discard it. (It sinks to the bottom when I disturb it, and another forms on top in about a week, so I figure it’s okay to remove it.) I just fed the old girl a couple of weeks ago, so I’m going to wait a couple more weeks before calling her done and bottling and aging.
Today she tasted very sharp and very promising.