Autumn Wildfire Set UP Research on ‘Smoke Taint’ in Wine

Santa Rosa, Calif., (April 12, 2018) – With the value of wine riding on a delicate balance of aroma and flavor, the impact of winegrapes’ exposure to smoke from a wildfire could have significant economic consequences. Last fall’s Northern California wildfires sent smoke wafting over an experimental vineyard in Napa Valley, giving scientists the opportunity to study the interplay of smoke and wine quality, reported Jeff Quackenbush in the North Bay Business Journal.

“The moment the smoke started, my phone started ringing off the hook,” said Anita Olberholster, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and enology specialist. “I quickly realized how thin the data is I need to base recommendations on.”

The fires near the UC Davis vineyard provided the perfect experimental platform. Olberholster and her research team sprang into action to start a research project on the fly. Remaining grapes on smoke-exposed vines were picked, loads of commercially grown grapes deemed too questionable for commercial wineries were accepted. Over the past five months, small batches of wine were made from the grapes.

“They all have different levels of smoky character,” Olberholster said. “Some on the nose are actually quite pleasant and not smoky, but the aftertaste is the problem. All of them, even if in small amounts, had that ‘old smoke,’ ‘ashtray,’ ‘new smoke’ aftertaste. It all depends on how sensitive you’re going to be at it.”

The scientists are now looking for a process that will remove the smoky compounds, as little as possible of anything else.

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