Longtime fans of former Oakland restaurant Camino already know the appeal of Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain’s Camino vinegar. The barrel-aged vinegars were a staple of the now-shuttered restaurant, yet it’s endured as a passion project-turned-business. Now, Moore and Hopelain have teamed up with Berkeley’s Broc Cellars to create a limited-edition run of five-month-aged red wine vinegar made of Nero d’Avola and Valdiguié wines, a first for both businesses. “Since we closed the restaurant,” Hopelain says, “we haven’t had much opportunity to work in a collaborative environment — to actually talk about the decisions you are making and get outside input. Working with Broc felt like a step in that direction for us.”
Camino’s vinegar is revered in food circles; a New York Times story by Mark Bittman in 2014 recalled an endive salad with sheep cheese at Camino, that featured “the best vinegar you have ever tasted.” Meanwhile, a 2019 Los Angeles Times story noted the vinegar as having quite a following among food shops in Southern California, as well as being a favorite of food critic Jonathan Gold.
This project grew out of a friendship with Broc Cellars’s Chris Brockway and Bridget Leary, and the vinegar is a departure from previous batches. The vinegar’s usual recipe involves a mixture of various natural California wines from different vineyards, and previously at Camino, the vinegar was made with the ends of wine bottles from the restaurant. With this collaboration, however, Moore and Hopelain had the opportunity to discuss the qualities they wanted for the vinegar and Brockway suggested four or five smaller lots of Broc Cellar’s wine. Once they all settled on Nero d’Avola and Valdiguié as the base, Moore and Hopelain brought it to their home to age in barrels and bottle it for retail.
The resulting vinegar is one with a more concentrated flavor with a “bright, fresh quality, while still being deep and acidic,” Moore says. “The vinegar’s as acidic as possible so you need to use the least as possible, so your salads come out less watery,” Moore says. “That’s why I started making vinegar because I wanted it really concentrated.” In use for, say, a salad dressing, Moore recommends a 4:1 ratio of oil to vinegar, much lower than with storebought vinegar, which tends to have more water and a diluted flavor.
In a well-timed pairing, Broc Cellars is on the verge of releasing an olive oil it’s been working on in the next few weeks, and another wine vinegar is in the works for Broc and Camino, already aging in a barrel at Moore and Hopelain’s home. Made of Zinfandel wine, the vinegar is expected to be released in March. “I just don’t want to hit you over the head with vinegar, I don’t think that tastes good,” Moore says. “I think people at some point got used to using really bad balsamic vinegar that has caramel added to it. I think this is a different planet, this is strong stuff so you use less, and that way you can taste the lettuce, the olive oil, whatever else you put in there. It’s not just overwhelmed with vinegar.”