Posts Tagged: smoke taint
When wildfires send smoke into farmland, orchards and vineyards, growers are concerned about the impact of the tainted air on their crops, reported Giuseppe Ricapitio in the Union Democrat.
"It's grapes we worry about the most," said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor. "In the past, there have been bad years when there was a lot of smoke where grapes were on the vine and wineries had to produce the smoky wine because of that effect."
The article said grapes are unlike other agricultural products, in that the skins are permeable. Free volatile phenols created by burning wood become part of the grape itself.
"It isn't something you can wash off," said Ron Harms of Yosemite Cellars winery.
After the 2013 Rim Fire, the winery produced a "Rim Fire Blend," which was successful. However, wine drinkers' palettes differ in terms of their smoke sensitivity. "Some people just can't tolerate (smoke flavor) at all," Harms said.
Other agricultural crops may not be impacted by a blanket of smoke, and some may even benefit. Before Europeans settled in California, Native Americans living in the wilderness would set fires to burn understory brush that built up in the forests.
"It's part of the ecological knowledge of native tribes that smoke is good for trees," Kocher said. "That's not a scientifically proven thing. We don't know."
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.