Wildfires taint West Coast vineyards with taste of smoke
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.