WineMaker News Page

Updated March 8, 2023

New Irrigation Suggestions For Drought-Prone Regions

a drip irrigation system with water droplets coming out
Photo by Wes Hagen

Research out of Oregon State University (OSU) has the following advice to offer up to wine grape growers in more drought-prone environments: Irrigate early when water is available, but not too much to promote a giant canopy. Then cut back later in the growing season when water is more scarce. What OSU’s viticulturist Alec Levin found working in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley was that more irrigation early in the season led to higher yield and fruit quality. 

This is a balancing act because if grape growers irrigate too much too early, the canopy will be excessive leading to higher water consumption later in the season. But his conclusions were clear that the longer they waited to start irrigation, the lower the yield. The irrigation rate used was 17 gallons (64 L) per week per vine. Fruit quality among the deficit irrigation programs was a little less straightforward as other factors came into play such as viral, fungal, or pest stress. Also, the effects on harvest Brix was a little more variable; a slight delay in starting the irrigation program did increase Brix, but Brix was reduced in the later start vines. 

These studies will continue in 2023 with continued work on grapes and how fruit quality from the different irrigation strategies makes its way into the finished wine. https://www.goodfruit.com/thirst-management-for-wine-grapes/

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

New Products

Still Spirits Air Still Pro

air still pro distillation system

A new upgrade is available for the Still Spirits Air Still, an air-cooled countertop home distillation system (this system does not require water to cool the distillate). The new Air Still Pro is an improvement on the design by adding a reflux column so users can more easily produce clean distillates. For users of the Still Spirits Air Still, there is an available upgrade so that they don’t need to purchase an entirely new unit to gain the same benefits of the reflux column. The Air Still Pro allows users to switch between pot-still and reflux mode. Another new feature is a built-in botanicals basket and a foreshots collection vial for automatically collecting the first heads of the distillate. https://bsghandcraft.com/still-spirits-air-still-pro

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/

Upcoming Events

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