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A toast to John Butler

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John Butler passed away Saturday night after a long bout with cancer.

Those of you who never got the chance to meet John or taste his wine missed out. He was one of the finest and interesting people I've had a chance to meet here in the valley, a wonderful amateur winemaker who was always eager to share what he made and what he knew about the craft he had worked at as a hobby for more than 35 years.

He and his winemaking partner, Glenn Liner, taught a class in home winemaking at Wenatchee Valley College. When John knew his time was short, he gave away or sold his winemaking gear at bargain prices to other amateurs.

My first opportunity to meet John and his wife Rose was as competitors at the Chelan County Fair's annual amateur wine competition several years ago. Year after year, John's wine would always outscore mine and win all the blue ribbons and usually Best of Show.

John and Rose lived in Western Washington for many years where he worked in communications. He made wine with a group of amateurs from Boeing who would order grapes by the truckload of varying freshness and quality for their hobbies.

He thought he had struck the Mother Lode when he and Rose moved to Wenatchee about a dozen years ago. Some of the best wine grapes in the world were growing about 50 miles away in Quincy and Mattawa and he quickly found sources to make outstanding wine.

John would make far more wine than they could drink simply because he couldn't pass up the availability of wonderful grapes that allowed him to learn how to make a new wine variety. He gave away much of what he made.

Local wine judge and review Barb Robertson said John's wines were as good if not better than many commercial wines she had tasted.

Wines John crafted with Liner's help won eight blue ribbons including Best Red and Best of Show at last year's fair. It was the fourth consecutive year John's wines had won Best of Show.

In his honor, the Chelan County Fair wine judging will be renamed the Chelan County Fair's John Butler Amateur Wine Competition, said Alex Saliby, one of the organizers of competition.

It's an appropriate clink of the glass for a fine man and great winemaker, an honor that would surely make John happy and proud.