WineMaker News Page

Updated December 26, 2022

Raising a Glass to a Home Winemaking Legend

Winemaker Rex Johnson with his numerous awards from amateur competitions

WineMaker is saddened to announce the passing of Rex Johnston, one of the most recognized home winemakers we know and a friend of the magazine. Following years of declining health, Rex passed away at the age of 83 near his home in Walnut Creek, California. Rex holds the record of being named the WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition’s Winemaker of the Year an astonishing eight times since the first competition held in 2002. Since beginning entering amateur wine competitions in 2002, Rex won more than 150 Best of Show awards and 13 Golden Bears at the California State Fair Home Wine Competition. He was a member of the Sacramento Home Winemakers club where he was a mentor to other home winemakers and quick to share his experiences to further the hobby. 

 Rex began making wine at home from dandelions and fruits in 1965, but his sweet, dessert wines from grapes and fruits grown on and around his own property are the ones that would go on to garner so much attention. Rex and his wife, Barbara Bentley, were fixtures at the annual WineMaker Conferences for a decade, where Rex’s infectious smile and kindness was as memorable as the numerous walks he and Barbara would make to the winner’s podium each time his name was announced at the awards reception.

 It is with a heavy heart all of us at WineMaker magazine raise a glass of his Bentley Cellars Elephant Heart Plum Wine in Rex’s honor.

Rethinking Vertical Shoot Position Trellis Systems

grapes ripening on a vertical shoot position trellis system
Photo by Ed Kwiek

A new study out from UC-Davis has shown that the popular vertical shoot position (VSP) trellis system is likely not the best trellising for warmer, sunnier sites like those found in California. The study looked at six different trellis systems, each at three different irrigation levels for two consecutive seasons. They tested a standard VSP trellis, two variations of the VSP system, a single high-wire cordon system, a high quadrilateral system, and Guyot-pruned VSP system. The irrigation levels were at 25%, 50%, and 100% of the crop’s evapotranspiration level. 

The researchers concluded that the single high-wire cordon system had higher yields and accumulated anthocyanins at harvest. They found that the VSP trellis had reduced anthocyanins and that the leaf arrangement with this style of trellising was overexposing the fruit to sun. Their conclusions were clear for those vineyards in a hot and sunny climate: It’s time to replace your VSP trellises. The irrigation aspect of the study was less surprising with higher irrigation leading to larger berry size and yields, but lower anthocyanin and flavonol levels. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2022.1015574/abstract

More Great News For Grape Growers

diseased grapevines from esca
Diseased grapevines from esca. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

In the August-September 2022 issue of WineMaker, we reported on a big potential breakthrough in the fight against glassy-winged sharpshooters, a scourge of California grape growers. In another breakthrough, scientists say they may have found the pathway and potential cure for grapevine trunk diseases (GTDs). GTDs are a fungal issue that has caused an estimated $1.5 billion in annual damage to vineyards according to a study done in 2012. Eutypa dieback and esca are two commonly known GTDs. The researchers found that a mix of reduced iron (Fe2+) and hydrogen peroxide combine in a complex interaction among several fungal species and are released into the wood. It is here that combination can prove deadly to grapevines because it releases free radicals. Free radicals are the reason we are told to take our antioxidants . . . they’re not good for any living creature.

The good news is that this combination of iron and hydrogen peroxide should be easily stopped by antioxidants and a common compound we know as chelating agents. So what is a chelating agent? It’s a chemical compound that reacts with metal ions to form a water-soluble, stable complex. They can be found in our food, in cleaning products, in medicines (such as cancer treatments), and water treatment systems, among other uses. So potentially by treating the wounds (growing fungi) on the grapevine trunk with a chelating agent and antioxidants, the reduced iron can be removed from the equation and hydrogen peroxide can be turned to water. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2022.921961/full

New Products

SmartRef Digital Refractometer

smartref refractometer with app display

A new digital refractometer from Anton Paar is a portable smart pocket device suitable for a wide range of measurements in winemaking. The device offers more than 15 different measurement units with automatic temperature compensation (ATC). Depending on your need, SmartRef enables you to measure the extract or sugar content in wine or beer, the sweetness of fruit in the vineyard or garden/orchard, the moisture of honey, the salt content of your aquarium or pool, and more. Measurement range is from 0 to 85 °Brix, is precise down to 0.2 °Brix, readouts occur in just two seconds, and only 0.4 mL of liquid is required. https://www.anton-paar.com/us-en/products/details/smartref/

The World Of Natural Wine

cover image for The World of Natural Wine

While the world of natural wines can be fairly polarizing in some wine circles, there is no denying that it can produce some interesting wines. Made from grapes alone — organically farmed, fermented, aged, and bottled without additives — they’re a winemaker’s expression of linking wine directly to nature. Author Aaron Ayscough looks to navigate this movement in The World of Natural Wine. Meet the obsessive, often outspoken, winemakers; learn about the regions of France where natural wine culture first appeared and continues to flourish today; and explore natural wine in Spain, Italy, Georgia, and beyond. https://www.workman.com/products/the-world-of-natural-wine/hardback

Winexpert Winery Series

winexpert winery series box

A new line of kits from Winexpert is aimed at small- to medium-sized wineries. This unique series of craft winemaking kits allows you to make table wines in a variety of flavors. The Winery Series kits come in 3.7-gal. (14-L) concentrates and yield 12.2 gal. (46.2 L) of finished wine. They are releasing a California Chardonnay, California Moscato, Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Chilean Diablo Rojo. As with many of the kits, ease of use and dependability are key features. Sold in the U.S. exclusively through LD Carlson. https://www.ldcarlson.com/

On-Line Alcohol Estimator

Govent alcohol estimator

The new GOvent from GOfermentor allows users to get a real-time estimate of the alcohol levels in their wine. By replacing your airlock with their alcohol estimator, which gauges the carbon dioxide gas released, you can graph and monitor the progress of your fermentation from anywhere using the optional Android/iOS app. The accuracy is +/– 0.25% ABV in closed fermenters up to 30 gallons (120 L) of wine, beer, mead, and other fermentations. There is an LCD display and WiFi internet connection is required for remote access. https://www.GOfermentor.com

RJS Craft Winemaking RQ Charisma Collection

rjs charisma collection

The new RQ series from RJS Craft Winemaking, the Charisma line, sources grapes from the Southern Hemisphere countries of Australia and South Africa. There are five options to choose from: A Chenin Blanc-Chardonnay-Viognier blend; a Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvèdre blend; a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend; a Pinotage varietal; and a Merlot varietal. https://rjscraftwinemaking.com/restricted-quantities-2023/

Upcoming Events

winemaker boot camp online logo
January 20, 2023

Backyard Grape Growing Online Workshop with Wes Hagen. Former professional vineyard manager and WineMaker’s longtime “Backyard Vines” columnist Wes Hagen will lead you online for four hours through all the steps a small-scale grape grower needs to know: Site selection, vine choice, planting, trellising, pruning, watering, pest control, harvest decisions, plus more strategies to successfully grow your own great wine grapes. All attendees will also receive a free download of Wes’ Guide to Growing Grapes and have access to the video recording.

WineMaker's Garagiste Con event logo
January 31, 2023

Early Bird Registration Deadline for Feb. 17, 2023 GaragisteCon Online. A full day of live online seminars and Q&A panels for small-scale wineries and aspiring wineries. All attendees will have access to video recordings of all sessions. There are three learning tracks: Business/Sales, Winery Operations, and Start-Ups as well as Q&A sessions with leading small winery industry suppliers. Get your questions answered live by industry experts. Also attendees get to interact with other small wineries and wineries-in-planning to compare notes. Register by January 31, 2023 to save $100.

2023 winemaker international amatuer wine competition logo
March 17, 2023

Entry deadline for the 2023 WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition. Enter your wines, meads, and ciders and compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in 50 categories awarded by a panel of experienced wine judges. You can gain international recognition for your  skills and get valuable feedback on your wines from the competition’s judging panel. https://winemakermag.com/competition/competition-overview

winemaker confierence logo willamette valley
June 1–4, 2023

Save The Date for our 14th annual WineMaker Conference, which will be located in beautiful Eugene, Oregon. Join us in Oregon’s world-famous Willamette Valley wine region for four days of winemaking learning and fun. Don’t miss dozens of winemaking and grape growing workshops, seminars, and special events all geared for home winemakers. https://winemakermag.com/conference/conference-overview