Seeking Solutions to Smoke Taint in Wine
By Amy Quinton
A year ago this week, a series of fires broke out in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. The area is one of California’s best-known wine growing regions. While 90 percent of the grapes in Napa County had been harvested, a few vineyards still had grapes on the vine, including at the University of California, Davis’s experimental station in Oakville.
Smoke from nearby wildfires can ruin the quality of wine. Anita Oberholster, a viticulture and enology extension specialist at UC Davis has been researching so-called smoke taint, in hopes of finding the best ways of treating the wine to mitigate the effects.
Volatile phenols from smoke can permeate the skins of the grape. It can lead to wine that, at its worst, can have a smell and flavor similar to wet cigar or cigarette butts. The timing of the grapevine smoke exposure influences the severity of the taint in wine. Grapes are most susceptible to smoke taint from after veraison (color change for red grapes) to harvest. Oberholster has produced wine from six tons of smoke-exposed grapes from last year’s wildfires.
Andy Fell and Amy Quinton talked to Oberholster to find out more about her research in a special extended edition of the Three Minute Egghead podcast.
Wine Country Wildfires Leave Questions for Vintners (Three Minute Egghead podcast)
Testing Sonoma Ash and Air for Fire-Formed Pollutants (UC Davis News)
Amy Quinton writes (and talks) about agricultural and veterinary sciences for UC Davis News and Media Relations.