Wild­fires taint West Coast vine­yards with taste of smoke

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - BUSINESS - By An­drew Selsky

TURNER, ORE. » Smoke from the West Coast wild­fires has tainted grapes in some of the na­tion’s most cel­e­brated wine re­gions with an ashy fla­vor that could spell disaster for the 2020 vin­tage.

Winer­ies in Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton have sur­vived se­vere wild­fires be­fore, but the smoke from this year’s blazes has been es­pe­cially bad — thick enough to ob­scure vine­yards droop­ing with clus­ters of grapes al­most ready for har­vest. Day af­ter day, some West Coast cities en­dured some of the worst air qual­ity in the world.

No one knows the ex­tent of the smoke dam­age to the crop, and grow­ers are try­ing to as­sess the sever­ity. If tainted grapes are made into wine without steps to min­i­mize the harm or weed out the dam­aged fruit, the re­sult could be wine so bad that it can­not be mar­keted.

The wild­fires are likely to be “without ques­tion the sin­gle worst disaster the wine-grape grow­ing com­mu­nity has ever faced,” said John Aguirre, pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia As­so­ci­a­tion of Wine­grape Grow­ers.

Wine­mak­ers around the world are al­ready adapt­ing to cli­mate change’s ris­ing tem­per­a­tures and more fre­quent, more se­vere droughts. Those near fire-prone forests face the ad­di­tional risk that smoke could ruin ev­ery­thing.

“Un­for­tu­nately, cli­mate ex­perts are telling us this is go­ing to be a prob­lem,” said Anita Ober­hol­ster, a wine ex­pert at the University of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis. “And so we need to do better. We need to do loads more re­search.”

With this year’s har­vest un­der­way, some winer­ies are not ac­cept­ing grapes they had agreed to pur­chase un­less they have been tested for smoke taint, Aguirre said. But lab­o­ra­to­ries are too backed up to an­a­lyze new or­ders in time.

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