WineMaker News Page

Updated May 1, 2023

Wine Grapes Found to Have Been Domesticated in Two Locations

row of head-trained vines with leaves emerging in spring
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Ask oenophiles around the world where wine grapes originally came from and most will cite the south Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. But new research has shown that Georgia may not be the only region to domesticate the wild Vitis vinifera sylvestris. A second location 600+ miles (~1,000 km) away, near modern Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan, looks to have produced similar results domesticating the wild grape vine. Not only that, but the grapes domesticated in this region seem to be the ones that proliferated both east towards the Asian continent and west around the Mediterranean. 

Using gene sequencing technology, it seems that the domestication process in the south Caucasus region near the Asian/European border did not spread far and wide like earlier thought. While the more eastern domestication process seemingly was originally intended for table grapes, it was only later used for wine production after cross breeding occurred. The study also pushed the date of both domestication dates much earlier, now thought to have happened 11,000 years ago. There are still a lot of questions that remain such as if there was some minor domestication of wild grapes prior to the full split to Vitis vinifera vinifera that science is blind to at this point. We’re sure there will be more research into this topic, but be sure to check out: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.adg6617

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.

New Products


GOpump box with the app to run it.

Released by the folks at GOfermentor, GOpump is intended for pumping wine or similar fluids (it is not designed to be used as a must pump). It can be used in pump mode where the delivery rate is automatically controlled at the user-set flowrate or in batch mode where a preset volume is delivered at a user-set flowrate. And finally there is a remote mode where the pump can be controlled by external device or app (Bluetooth or WiFi). A built-in totalizer based on magnetic flux sensing (no moving parts) provides an accurate estimate of total wine transferred. Controllable flow rate allows gentle or rapid transfer of wine. Flow rate is from 1 to 10 liters per minute (0.26 to 2.6 gallons per minute). It also has automatic shutdown on empty detection. http://gofermentor.com/gopump/

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/

Upcoming Events

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

Logo for the home winemakers classic event held in Napa, California
July 16, 2023

Home Winemakers Classic in Napa, California on July 16 from 4–6:30 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel. There is no charge to serve your wines, but there is a $25 fee per wine in order to get them judged. Or simply come as a guest and taste others’ wines. In its 40th year, this event fundraises for the Mt. Veeder Fire Safe Council’s community outreach for wildfire safety and prevention. Serve, sip, and bid for world-class wines and gift packages, all in the name of supporting wildfire safety. More information can be found at: www.homewinemakersclassic.com