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Smoke Tainted Fruit - Trust your Winemaker

All in one day of harvest the bladder press can break mid-cycle, while a fork-lift clips off a tank valve and an intern mistakenly dumps fresh fruit in a fermenting vessel. The endless stories of the cellar during harvest can entertain those curious to hear for hours. It saddens me to know that there are many impacted winemakers, interns, cellar and vineyard crews missing out on their livelihood they are all so passionate about in the midst of COVID and now the fires. It is the main source of income for many wine industry employees.

Harvest output in Sonoma County has been reduced with smoke tainted fruit being left on the vines. The risk to ferment and treat later can be costly to the small producer and puts makers and growers in a tough situation. Thankfully, those with the means, passion and positive outlook will still at least take a gamble.

There will be a CHILLED WINE TREND upon us for 2021…

With winemaking this vintage there will be an overwhelming supply of Rosé and white tank fermented juice without any skin contact. The Rosé season is going to be abundant this 2021. Winemakers are bringing fruit in and whole bunch pressing in bladder presses. This is a tactic to extract less smoke-derived compounds in the pressed juice. Fermenting separate from any skin solids is a safer choice.

Smoke taint and treatments for grapes, ferments

According to a summary from Scott labs, winemakers are going to be doing everything in their control to avoid these undesirable components of smoke taint. They have treatments for grapes, ferments and even finished wines to help reduce the taint aromas. They claim taint can make a wine taste smoky, spicy, plastic-like, fecal, cigarette flavors and dirty ashtrays. Let’s give our Sonoma County winemakers some slack, some taint aromas are already extremely prevalent in non-wildfire season wines.

Smoke flavors and aromas can easily come from wood barrels, which are fired and charred when being made. Spicy can be from the terpenes or pyrazines in a variety of grape varietals and influence the wines with flavors of green peppers, peppercorns, and jalapenos! Plastic-like, not uncommon on a non-smoke vintage can be from earthy musty notes from a bacteria called geosmin.

Think of a little smoke taint as a homage to a funky natural wine. And fecal? What about the classic debate of Brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast that can produce some off-putting phenols? Brett is one cornerstone to the “Old World” wine debate. It can be described as barn-yard and manure on one extreme and then bacon and clove on the other? That is some positive tasting perception.

Maybe 2020 vintage will be the one to not look too much into the tasting notes and appreciate someone paid a grower or grew their own for the whole growing season and didn’t want it to just sit on the vine unappreciated.

There are many advanced tests and treatments done globally to help impacted harvests with smoke taint. (Shutterstock)
There are many advanced tests and treatments done globally to help impacted harvests with smoke taint. (Shutterstock)

And for the comments on cigarette flavors and dirty ashtray. Trust your winemaker, try the wine and buy the wine. There are so many advanced tests and treatments done globally to help impacted harvests with smoke taint. Reverse Osmosis is one that some will use in the cellar on finished wines where wine is passed through carbon filter beds to diminish the smoke-taint compounds. Carbon is even used on juice and then filtered before fermentation.

Trust that your winemaker will be your watchdog.
Trust that your winemaker will be your watchdog.

When grapes are introduced to smoke compounds from their environment, the compounds can bind with the sugars and skins and be odorless at first. It is later when fermenting and aging the compounds are unbounded and released. Trust that your winemaker will be your watchdog and make sure that the unbound aromas are either tastefully blended with some untainted wine or paired with some nice elements to balance the vintage. I’ve come across a smoke -tainted Mendocino 2008 Pinot Noir that was reminiscent of a barbeque mesquite rib glaze…and I absolutely loved it. Imbibe on!

Resources

Red-Wine-Smoke-Guidelines.pdf

Devastation at Wineries Destroyed by the Glass Incident Fire

Beyond smoke tainted harvest, photos Show Jaw-Dropping Devastation at Wineries Destroyed by the Glass Incident Fire

Gianna Fugazi
Gianna Fugazi

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