“We started making wine vinegar at home 6 years ago. It was a fragrant place, with lots of fruit flies. We realized pretty quickly that we had to get it out of our house. Plus, I’ve never been a good employee, so this job suits me,” recounts Jay Rostow, recalling the beginning of Virginia Vinegar Works in 2006. He and Steph have lived in Nelson County for many years, gardening and working and playing close to home. When the time came to establish a vinegar plant, they sourced a stainless steel wine tank and borrowed some space in the Alberene Soapstone building in Schuyler. “Our fist real batch sat there all winter, converting from a really nice meritage-blend wine into a vinegar which we call our Heritage Blend Red. It took a long time, but it turned out very smooth. We were thrilled!”
The Rostows source varietal-specific Virginia wine and introduce to it their ‘Mother of Vinegar’ starter culture, called acetobacter. Given the proper temperature, alcohol content, and plenty of aeration, acetobacter will transform a tank of wine into vinegar within a few months, at which point it is transferred to an oak barrel for additional aging. This Orleans method of slow, controlled transformation and aging of wine vinegar was pioneered in France in the 17th century; the resulting vinegar is as beautiful to behold as it is to swirl and sip. “We didn’t know all that much about wine, so we got part time jobs at a local winery,’ Steph says of their own metamorphosis. “We learned a lot about grapes, how they taste, how they grow, and helped with the harvest and with bottling. I think that really helped us to be able to describe the vinegar to people.”
At Market, the Rostows display a row of brilliant gold and deep ruby vinegars with cubes of bread for sampling. The lineup always includes White Heritage Blend and Red Heritage Blend, the latter being a mellow, deep purple blend of classic Bordeaux grapes — but grown in Virginia. To complement their year-round offerings, this year Steph and Jay also have a few surprises to unveil at market; after the resounding success of Nectarine Vinegar late last summer, they are considering additional fruit vinegars this year, with rumors of raspberry and the return of the nectarine. Another project called ‘OMG’ is already aging in the barrel — look for it around tomato time, when it’s sweet thickness will garner comparisons to balsamic and perfectly accentuate summertime’s flavors.