Califonia Bountiful

California vinegar wins new customers

In today's computerized, technology-driven world, it's hard to believe we're still using products that were discovered more than 10,000 years ago.

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In today's computerized, technology driven world, it's hard to believe we're still using products that were discovered more than 10,000 years ago. It's true and it proves the point that there's more than one way to enjoy a great California wine.

During the spring and summer, most of wine country is pretty slow. Winegrapes are still waiting to reach their prime. And growers are trying to figure out what is going to be the best vintage this year. But in another part of Napa, the wine is flowing. Champagne, chardonnay and cabernet aren't this year's vintage crop of wine, they're the next wave of upscale vinegars to hit your store.

Don't let the name fool you--at the St. Helena Olive Oil Co., people can't get enough of their favorite condiment: vinegar. Sourcing from local wineries with a surplus of quality wine, the vinegar is all natural, all local, and all made in small batches with extra attention to detail. One thing to remember here--bottles of generic red wine vinegars just won't cut it.

"We make all of our wine vinegar, as we have from day one, from premium wine from the Napa Valley, so to produce a really high quality wine vinegar, you need to start with a really good wine," said Peggy O'Kelly, owner of St. Helena Olive Oil Co. "We kind of think of ourselves as a recycling plant, taking leftover wine and turning it into another high quality product."

But swishing one's palate with vinegar is hardly a novel idea--it's actually been around since the Neolithic period. Roman soldiers once tossed back vinegar for strength. Around for more than 10,000 years, the principal of making vinegar has remained virtually unchanged: the fermentation of natural sugars to alcohol and then secondary fermentation into vinegar. You might say wine is to grapes what vinegar is to wine. And it's exactly that simplicity that attracted Walter Nicolau to pursue the art of making vinegar as a hobby.

After a few years dabbling in his new hobby, Walter decided to go full time with it and ended up starting the Classic Wine Vinegar Co. in Modesto. Today Walter and his family make more than 300,000 gallons of vinegar a year and continue to grow within the industry. And with chefs, restaurants and consumers all depending on vinegar for a variety of uses, it looks like it may finally be time to retire the old adage, 'You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar."

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