What is the effect that wildfire smoke has on the taste of wine?
After the gnarly wildfires we have experienced through OR, WA, and CA this summer, it is important to understand how the smoke may affect the taste of your wine! We’ll explain the make up of smoke taint and how to best avoid having this affect the flavor of your finished product. Smoke taint is not a word winemakers like to hear. During veraison and harvest is when smoke taint can have the biggest effect on your crop. Once the grapes start ripening, they lose acidity but their skins become more pourous. This makes it easier for the skins to soak up the smoke.
Smoke taint is made up of guaiacol (Creosote) and 4-methyl guaiacol. Both of these compounds are normally found in wine (from oak-aged wines), but, at much different levels than that of smoke taint. Some wines when aged in a wooden barrel will have parts of these compounds in them, however, at much lower and more controlled levels. The flavor of smoke taint is more bitter as wooden barrel aged wine is more smoky (something acceptable).
Some things to consider are the variables involved in determining just how bad smoke taint may have impacted your crop. The intensity of the smoke, the proximity of the vineyard to the fire, what stage the grape is in when affected (veraison to harvest is when they are most susceptible).
The Australian Wine Institute has come up with a few practical tactics for managing smoke-exposed fruit:
- Hand harvest fruit to minimize breaking or rupturing of skins
- Exclude leaf material to limit smoke-related characteristics
- Maintain integrity of harvest fruit, avoiding maceration and skin contact
- Keep fruit cool to extract less smoke-related compounds
- Whole bunch press to reduce extraction of smoke-derived compounds
There is constant research regarding the effects of smoke taint on wine. At Washington State University, Tom Collins is conducting an on-going study to understand the effects of smoke on crop and the finished product (wine). He does this by replicating the correct conditions that a wildfire presents and tests it against multiple variables (grape variety, smoke intensity, etc).
Interestingly, there are many Oregon winemakers that “embraced” their fate of smoke taint and continued with the production of their wine after the fires from last year (2017). Whether you embrace or take measures of precaution to stop the smoke taint, here in the Pac Northwest, you’ll always have an abundant amount of wine lovers to try your completed product!