Background: Extensin deposition is considered important for the correct assembly and biophysical properties of primary cell walls, with consequences to plant resistance to pathogens, tissue morphology, cell adhesion and extension growth. However, evidence for a direct and causal role for the extensin network formation in changes to cell wall properties has been lacking. Results: Hydrogen peroxide treatment of grapevine (Vitis vinifera cv. Touriga) callus cell walls was seen to induce a marked reduction in their hydration and thickness. An analysis of matrix proteins demonstrated this occurs with the insolubilisation of an abundant protein, GvP1, which displays a primary structure and post-translational modifications typical of dicotyledon extensins. The hydration of callus cell walls free from saline-soluble proteins did not change in response to H(2)O(2), but fully regained this capacity after addition of extensin-rich saline extracts. To assay the specific contribution of GvP1 cross-linking and other wall matrix proteins to the reduction in hydration, GvP1 levels in cell walls were manipulated in vitro by binding selected fractions of extracellular proteins and their effect on wall hydration during H(2)O(2) incubation assayed. Conclusions: This approach allowed us to conclude that a peroxidase-mediated formation of a covalently linked network of GvP1 is essential and causal in the reduction of grapevine callus wall hydration in response to H(2)O(2). Importantly, this approach also indicated that extensin network effects on hydration was only partially irreversible and remained sensitive to changes in matrix charge. We discuss this mechanism and the importance of these changes to primary wall properties in the light of extensin distribution in dicotyledons.