I've been a fan of Kimberley vinegars from San Francisco since the mid-90s. I think that was about the time their line of vinegars first came across my notice in Michigan, though they officially started in the '70s. The company began in 1975 when Ruth and Larry Robinson bottled their first batch of vinegar and named the company after their daughter.
Today, the Alexander family runs the company, but they continue to make their vinegar by the Orleans method (actually they were the first in the US to utilize the Orleans method of production). In a nutshell, the Orleans method—named for the French city—entails storing fruit juice in oak barrels, letting it ferment so it becomes wine, then adding a bit of Mother Vinegar to the barrel. As the volume goes down more wine is added to keep the process continuously moving. The ‘Mother Vinegar’ is basically a mass of bacteria (that isn't the prettiest thing in the world) that's been growing in older vinegars for years. A portion of the mother is added to the wine to begin the process. The mother “teaches” the bacteria present in the air and wine to convert the alcohol into acetic acid, souring the wine in essence.
The idea of handing down characteristics and flavor can also be seen in sourdough starters in the case of bread, as well as cultures in cheese production. It’s a long standing method of keeping flavors consistent from batch to batch, still I can’t help but imagine a classroom full of animated bacteria learning the ABCs of vinegar production from a motherly older bacteria with horned rim glasses and a cardigan.
With the bounty of wine country in their California backyard, Kimberley sources local Pinot Noir grapes to create this champagne vinegar. It's light on the tongue, not very sharp (thanks to a lower acidity), bright and fruity. It's great in a tomato and cucumber salad, in gazpacho and vinaigrettes.