When I first began making my own vinegar, I was intimidated by grape juice. The only thing I knew about grapes was that they were used for making wine! But as my knowledge and experience with fermentation expanded, I realized grapes were just like any other fruit! So finally, I took the plunge and learned how to make grape vinegar.
Now I’m here to walk you through the process, step by step!
It’s All About the Grapes
When it comes to making grape vinegar, you’ll want to use sun-ripened fruit that is at the peak of ripeness and readiness! Those with higher sugar content will create a stronger flavor and higher acetic acid levels.
As far as varieties go and based on the principles of fermentation, I believe you could use just about any grape to make vinegar. This said, please be aware that I’m not a vinegar connoisseur! I’m just a girl who makes grape vinegar in her kitchen with whatever locally raised fruit she can get her hands on! Please be aware that there are many grape varieties I haven’t worked with!
There. You’ve been warned!
Before you can ferment your fruit juice, you need to extract it from the grapes. While there are several techniques you can use, I’ll just name two here. One is clean and simple, but may require you to purchase special equipment. The other? It’s old school and like many old school things, it’s cheap and gets the job done.
Option 1: The Steam Juicer
If you want a hands off, relatively mess free extraction process, a steam juicer may be just the thing for you! However, if you aren’t going to be making lots of grape vinegar and have no other purpose for this piece of equipment (such as jelly making or juicing other fruits), it may be difficult to justify the purchase. You’ll probably want to take the second option instead!
Option 2: The Old School Way
Let’s look at how it works!
How to Make Grape Vinegar
Now that we’ve talk about fruit and juicing tools, it’s time to actually look at the vinegar making process. I’m going to walk you through it now, step by step!
Juicing the Grapes
If you’re steam juicing grapes, you don’t need to remove them from their stems. Simply plop clusters in the steamer’s basket and follow your manual’s directions for juicing grapes.
Going old school? Line a large kitchen bowl with a flour sack tea towel. Pull grapes from their stem by the handful. Don’t worry if a few (or more than a few!) stems go with. Fill the bowl with grapes and then, employ that potato masher! Mash the grapes until they’re all broken up.
Gather and tie the four ends of your cloth together. Hang the bundle where it can drip into a bowl below. When the dripping stops, you’ll have raw grape juice for fermenting!
Pour Your Juice Into a Fermenting Container
Pour the fresh, raw grape juice into a small, stoneware crock or a glass jar. Instead of putting a lid in place, cover the mouth of the container with a cloth or (in the case of a jar), a paper towel. Secure the cover tightly with string or a elastic band. This keeps out dirt and fruit flies, while still allow airflow.
Leave It to Work In Proper Temperatures
Your juice should be left to ferment in temperatures ranging from 60-80F (15C-26C). Larger amount of fruit juice will take longer to move through the fermenting phases. About 8 C fruit juice (1.89 litres) will take 3-4 months to reach completion.
I should also mention that fermenting your juice a place that holds to the lower end of the temperature range can prolong the fermenting process. This is because natural yeast and bacteria will be less active.
GET THE E-BOOK!
Learn to create and use traditional fruit vinegar in the home. My 60+ pg e-book will help you get started on the right path and guide you along the way!
The Fermenting Phases
There are two fermenting phases your fruit juice will enter into. The first is the result of natural, airborne yeasts, while the second goes into effect because of natural, airborne bacteria.
The Alcohol Phase
In the first phase, airborne yeasts go into action and begin consuming the natural sugars found within your grape juice. As they feed, they convert the sugar to alcohol and release carbon dioxide. You’ll see tiny bubbles on the walls of your fermenting container and even on the surface of your liquid. Your fruit juice will omit a light, alcohol-like aroma.
Natural yeasts will feed on the sugars in your grape juice until they die.
The Acetic Acid Phase
After 3-5 weeks have passed, you’ll notice a slightly sour aroma when you walk past your fruit juice. This is an indicator that acetobactors (acetic acid bacteria) have arrived on the scene! This group of bacteria transforms the alcohol to acetic acid, the thing that makes vinegar what it is!
Most of the time, this stage takes 3-5x longer than the first phase. Be patient!
Bottling Up Your Vinegar
How can you tell when the action has ceased and both natural yeasts and bacteria have consumed all there is to consume? Seal up some vinegar in an airtight container, then let it sit on the back of your kitchen counter for 1 day.
Break the seal. Was there a release of carbon dioxide? If so, your vinegar is still working and isn’t ready to be sealed. Leave it for another 2 weeks, then test again.
No release? Seal it back up and let it sit for 3-4 days. Test for a release of pressure and if there was none, you can bottle it up in a food-grade storage container. And that’s it!
Your grape vinegar is now ready to be used in the kitchen! Need some ideas? You might want to check out my e-book How to Create and Use Traditional Fruit Vinegar: the Beginner’s Guide to Success.
Here, you’ll find a variety of vinegar-making tutorials, troubleshooting tips, my favorite vinegar-based recipes and ways to use it in the home! Everything I’ve learned about making vinegar, bundled up in 60+ pages of information!
Happy vinegar making, friend!