Vintners Worry Wildfires May Smoke Their Harvest

Vintners Worry Wildfires May Smoke Their Harvest

18 July 2008

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USA — Winemakers in Napa and Sonoma Counties are among those concerned the smoke from Northern California wildfires may hurt this year’s grape crop. The grapes may not only smell smokey, but taste like smoke too.

“The last thing you want is to put a wine glass up to your nose, and think I smell smoke,” explains Anthony Beckman of Balleto Vineyards in Santa Rosa.

Australian researchers say it only takes a few hours of dense smoke to change how the grape tastes. The country has gone though several years of major wildfires which have affected their wine grapes.

Washing the grapes won’t eliminate the smoky smell. Leaves and the grapes’ skins also absorb the smoke, particulary when the grapes mature.

However, it is possible to filter wine to remove smoke. “Everything else passes through, everything else is re-combined,” explains Bob Kreishcher, who runs the filtration company Memstar North America. “It’s a very gentle process, done at very low pressure, so it doesn’t affect the wine at all.”

What would a wine, tainted with smoke, taste like? One wine shopper joked about what some Australians have called their wine: “burnt meat, burnt coffee, wet ashtray, bacon fat.”

The Sonoma County Grower’s Association is cautiously optimistic the grape harvest will be successful. “Will the experience in Australia translate to Mendocino County or Napa County or Sonoma County? I don’t think anyone has the experience to know if it’s likely or unlikely,” says Nick Frey of the Sonoma Winegrape Commission.

The answer as to whether this year’s crop was tainted will come in September when the grapes are picked. But with filtration as an option for vintners, buyers may never know if the 2008 vintages contained a smoky flavor and smell when they drink them.

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