Brian Kwasnieski likes to say Little Fork Vinegar was developed after hours at Matchbook Distilling Co., the private Greenport-based distillery he owns with his wife, Leslie Merinoff. But the real story starts with Kwasnieski in 2014 when he was working as an intern at a wine distributor.
“It’s something that I started in my kitchen,” he said. He took a few imported bottles home and let them ferment into vinegar in a ceramic crock. As the hobby grew, Kwasnieski met people within the industry who were willing to give him wine they didn’t want anymore.
“I kept finding more and more people that when they find out I made vinegar, I got more resources,” he continued. “I found it from suppliers, from vineyards, from wineries, from retailers, people clearing inventories.”
On a small scale, Kwasnieski started fermenting wine into vinegar with products that would’ve otherwise been thrown out. Then, in 2017, when he opened Matchbook, he ramped up production, and Little Fork Vinegar was born. Now, he works with a distributor to get wine from around the world from vineyards looking to get rid of it. There could be a number of things wrong with the wine, “everything from biological to economics, new business ownership, warehouse needing to make space for faster, better self inventory,” he said.
But for Kwasnieski, it’s an opportunity, both for business and the environment.
“People are clearing inventories, and it breaks their hearts to put this stuff down the drain and recycle the glass or just throw out entirely,” he said. “So, now I have an abundance of resources, and there’s an opportunity for me to make something new out of it.”
The process of turning wine into vinegar scientifically is quite simple because wine naturally wants to continue fermenting.
“This is just a step beyond all that,” Kwasnieski said. “If you were to let a bottle of wine sit out, it turns acetic, the enemy of any winemaker.” If a wine goes acetic, an unwanted bacteria has turned the liquid sour, or into vinegar. “If you let it go far enough, you’ll get this wonderful tasting liquid that the world has known as vinegar for 2000 years.”
And because the wine comes from all over the world, each batch of Little Fork Vinegar tastes a little different. Currently, Kwasnieski is working on a red wine vinegar made with a blend from France.
“If you’re into terroir, you can get a sense of what vinegar will taste like from that place because it’s made from what was meant to be wine,” he said. “I really do get to piggyback off the skill of the winemakers who’ve been doing it for generations there.”
At the front of Kwasnieski’s mind is keeping the business as eco-friendly as possible. The nature of Little Fork is inherently that because it saves a product from being wasted, but Kwasnieski is constantly thinking of ways to go further.
“I’m using the Astropouch which is a product that was designed for dispensing wine. It’s a lighter material [than glass] that lessens its carbon footprint in transit,” he said. The vinegar is currently made at a facility in Vermont, but soon, Kwasnieski is hoping to move the process to Matchbook Distilling co. And making sure he is creating a good product also plays into being an environmentally-friendly company.
“It has to sell. It has to be good. It has to be valuable,” he said. “Waste comes from things you can’t sell or without avoiding that whole conversation, but figuring out ways to improve on the way products are made, sustainable is like at the top of the list for me.”