First step in vinegar making: finding our mother

February 13, 2008 | By | Comments (8)

By Julie Chai, Sunset associate garden editor

To season our One-Block Diet dishes, we decided to make vinegar with some of Team Wine‘s syrah. I’d always thought that making red wine vinegar was as simple as letting an opened bottle of wine go bad…but it turns out it’s not quite that straightforward.

So we looked to award-winning cookbook author Paula Wolfert—who’s written about and made vinegar and is known for her meticulous research—to guide us.

Paulas_two_crocks We field tripped to Paula’s Sonoma home for a vinegar-making tutorial and, over espresso and Valrhona chocolate, she explained why we should bother doing this in the first place: There’s no good red wine vinegar on the market. Commercial manufacturers can make it quickly, so they do—which means that rich, complex flavors never develop.

Paula had several crocks of vinegar in various stages of development, as well as a cupboard filled with bottles of aging vinegar. We sampled her 2006, 2007, and 2008 vintages—they all had far more depth than any I’d tried before—and I was convinced that the only way to get good red wine vinegar is to make it yourself.

The_mother To get started, we’d need a crock, red wine, water, and a key component: the mother. The mother is essentially a starting agent, and she’s a shape shifter—depending on her maturity, she can appear as a cloudy mass or a tangible liver lookalike that forms in the top of your crock. Along with her knowledge, Paula would share with us the mother that she’d gotten from a friend more than 40 years ago.

She plunged her hand into the vinegar crock and pulled out the mother, divided it into pieces, and put the pieces into small jars with a bit of mature vinegar. The mothers would be stressed from division so, when we got home, we were to transfer them to bigger jars and feed them water and wine. Then leave them to rest in a dark, warm place while they regained strength. We’d continue feeding our mothers and know they were back in action when they rose to the top of the jars.

Cutting_up_the_motherEventually mothers die, and sink to the bottom of the crock (you need to scoop out their remains if they start taking up too much volume.) But it’s no reason to worry—a new mother will form in the old one’s place.

Taking good care of our mothers is critical since they’ll ultimately decide whether we get vinegar or not. If we treat them right, we should be elbow deep in vinegar in just a couple months.


  1. mohammad

    thanks for the great info, but how do we take care of the mother? can we put it in the fridge?

    July 22, 2010 at 9:12 am
  2. Margo True

    Congratulations and interesting about pasteurizing with campden tablets. So far we’ve used heat, but are considering food-graded diatomaceous earth, too.

    May 28, 2010 at 2:18 am
  3. Pickles

    I will never buy vinegar again.I have made wine, cider and malt vinegars now. It is so easy, I am pasteurizing mine with campden tablets.It works very well.

    May 27, 2010 at 11:09 am
  4. Pickles

    Hi, nice informative site, thanks. I have just started a vinegar mother using some, Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar. It has only been 4 days now and I have a mother starting to grow. How exiting. Cheers.

    October 4, 2009 at 11:09 pm
  5. Chris Ryan

    The Mother is available in Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar sold in Health food shops in USA. We got here in Australia

    May 17, 2009 at 12:50 am
  6. Shawn

    I work in Menlo Park and am very interested in trying this at home. Is there anyway you wo9uld be willing to share some of your vinegar mother with me? 🙂

    April 19, 2009 at 10:19 pm
  7. Julie Chai

    You can get a starter from Let us know how it goes!

    February 13, 2008 at 10:21 pm
  8. janelle

    And where would one find a mother for vinegar? I would love to make my own vinegar…

    February 13, 2008 at 6:51 pm

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