Pilot Testing of Raw Elderberry Vinegar Production Feasibility for Small Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $14,965.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Fair Share Farm LLC
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Thomas Ruggieri
Fair Share Farm LLC


  • Fruits: berries (other)


  • Animal Production: processing regulations
  • Crop Production: food processing
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study, value added

    Proposal summary:

    American elderberries are a native fruit in Missouri, and a viable agricultural product. Craft vinegars are a value-added agricultural product in many parts of the world, but not in the US. Tests at our farm have shown that raising elderberries, fermenting them to wine and then to vinegar is viable, and creates an aesthetically pleasing item. Craft vinegar operations can help give elderberry producers another option for adding value to the harvest.

    There are no current vinegar production farms in the area. The project will evaluate various production processes to determine the viability of each for small-farm and restaurant-kitchen operations.

    The anti-viral properties of elderberry juice is well established. It is not known, however, what beneficial health attributes of the American elderberry will remain (or be enhanced) after a two step fermentation process. We will be teaming with MU analytical lab to determine the answer. 

    Additionally, by connecting with the local restaurant community we hope to create a new craft category that will help increase the use of local elderberries, and provide a better knowledge of the benefits of sustainable agriculture.


    Project objectives from proposal:


    Obtain necessary licenses and approvals

    Production of alcohol is regulated by the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Per TTB:

    If you make vinegar from fresh fruit or juice, (this type of vinegar is classified as nonbeverage wine) you must:

    • Qualify as a bonded wine cellar by filing an application and bond with TTB using Permits Online. If you make only vinegar, you will not need the Federal Alcohol Administration Act wine producer's permit that is required for producers of beverage wine.
    • Obtain approval for your formula indicating how you plan to make nonbeverage wine /vinegar.
    • Keep records and file reports in accordance with 27 CFR part 24, subpart O.

    As a part of this project we will develop a step-by-step process primer to help others navigate the regulatory aspects of producing vinegar from elderberry fruit. 

    Operations evaluation

    Operations analysis of various elderberries to wine to vinegar processes will be conducted. American elderberries from our farm (both cultivated and wild varieties) and/or purchased from River Hills Harvest(500 lb +/- is planned.)Prior to initiating operations, we will purchase and complete an on-line vinegar production course developed by the Malle-Schmickl company in Austria. 

    Wine making will be completed using food grade barrels and buckets as fermenters. Organic sugar and water will be added as necessary. Finished wine will be stored.

    Vinegar processing will be completed using 4 different methods:

    1. Passive method. Placing wine in a modified food grade bucket and waiting for vinegar mother to form and convert the wine to vinegar.
    2. Orleans process. Created in France in the 17th century, it is a process where a wood barrel on its side is filled halfway with wine. Openings are cut into the ends of the barrel to allow air to enter and a mother of vinegar to form and convert the wine to vinegar.
    3. Vinegar generator. The Malle-Schmickl company produces and sells Vinegar Generators that can process from 1 to 25 gallons of wine into vinegar.  Vinegar can be produced in a tenth of the time that the more passive methods require.
    4. Bubbler system. A fourth way to do this is by bubbling air into the wine. A small-scale bubbler system will be constructed to test this method using an aquarium aerator and suitable container. It will be the main restaurant kitchen method of testing and will be carried out on a small scale.

    Evaluate culinary benefits of vinegar from each production type.

    Tastings of the elderberry vinegar will be performed once an acceptable product has been produced. Each tasting will include the opportunity to complete a survey card. 

    Evaluate health chemistry of vinegar from each production type.

    We will work with The University of Missouri to evaluate the health benefits and chemistry of the elderberry vinegar once a suitable product is produced.

    Evaluate public demand for local craft elderberry vinegar

    As a regular vendor at the Brookside Farmers Market we will get a first hand account of public demand once we have product to sell.


    A. Determine operations viability of at least 4 different wine-vinegar setups:

    • Food-grade bucket (passive)
    • Orleans barrel (passive)
    • Bubbler/aerator system
    • Fixed film reactor

     B.  Obtain necessary licenses and approvals from Federal agencies to produce alcohol and store it as vinegar production stock. Outline steps to obtain approvals to help others through the process.

    C. Determine culinary benefits of vinegar from each production type.

    D. Determine health chemistry of vinegar.

    E. Determine public demand for local craft elderberry vinegar

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.