Forest Fires Could Be Impacting Winegrapes

Smoke Taint Could Cause Off-Flavor Vines

Many forest fires throughout California have been near or upwind from many winegrape vineyards and could be causing problems for the grapes.

Jim Kennedy, a professor and chairman of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the California State University of Fresno, explains a particular serious problem due to smoke enveloping vineyards.

“A lot of these fires are getting very close to the wine industry, and that’s a problem because the smoke that these fires generate, they come in contact with clusters of fruit. The compounds that are smoke get absorbed onto the fruit and the plant likes to modify these compounds, because it can be quite toxic to plant cells,” said Kennedy. “The wine gets made from that fruit and the wine ages, the smoke compounds become released again, and it’s a real problem. Your wine starts to resemble an ashtray, its smell and character,” he added.

Kennedy said the tragedy is that the fruit is exposed to the smoke and it’s not readily and obviously upfront as problematic.

“A winemaker goes through the wine-making process thinking their fruit has escaped the problem, and low and behold a year down the road its become an ashtray. And that is something as the grape and wine industry we’re really keeping an eye out on these forest fires, and consulting with winemakers in these different regions so they are aware that this is a potential issue,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy said that this problem, also known as “smoke taint” has been seen many times.

“The classic sample is Australia. With the bush fires in Australia a lot of the vineyards are very close to eucalyptus groves, and so there’s a lot of research that has come out of Australia in terms of how to measure the potential for smoke taint in fruit and how to deal with it once you got it. The Australians tend to be on the front-end of it because it’s an issue that has much more potential for disaster in their industry,” said Kennedy.