‘Smoke Taint’ From Wildfires Prompts Wine Study

The phrase “smoke taint” has become a topic of discussion among wine lovers following significant wildfire activity on the West Coast over the past few years. The term refers to smoke-exposed grapes that produce undesirable flavours in the alcoholic beverage.

While it’s a legitimate concern, not a lot is known about the phenomenon. Still, some wineries have been extra vigilant as a result.

In response to the growing concern about smoke taint, the University of California, Davis, along with the California Association of Winegrape Growers is examining how wildfire smoke affects the state’s wine industry, which is worth $35 billion.

John Aguirre with the California Association of Winegrape Growers told KCRA3 that research is important because there’s still so much to learn about wildfire-exposed grapes.

“There are grapes out there that probably could be made into good wine, but wineries are being conservative and don’t want to risk that. So that’s why we need more research,” Aguirre noted. “We want to be able to test for that and have a standard in place. That is very important. Learning how to minimize the problem in the vineyard, as well as at the winery, will be a big boost.”

UC Davis extension enologist Anita Oberholster explained that while a wine with smoky character can be desirable, too much smoky flavoring—such as an ashy aftertaste—is not.

The aim of the study is to lookat the composition of smoke and how that relates to smoke taint development in the grapes and in the wines,” Oberholster said.

Quality, not health, is the concern.

“Winemakers are very hesitant to release anything that they may think may be impacted,” Oberholster said. “There is a lot we don’t know, yet. Really trying to figure out: am I safe to bottle this wine? Is this wine going to stay like this and not develop a problem in the future?”

Ninety percent of the wine made in the United States is produced in California. It ranks fourth in the world for wine production, following France, Spain, and Italy, according to Butterfield & Robinson.

The 2018 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition included many winners from California. If you’re looking to try some of the best wines from the state, consider the following:

  • Rack & Riddle NV Sonoma County Blanc de Noirs
  • Brick Barn Wine Estate 2016 Santa Ynez Valley Vermentino
  • O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery 2014 Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Sonoma County Upshot
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