Smoke looms over the vineyard at 50th Parallel Winery in Lake Country //Sydney Morton photo

Smoke from wildfires could affect B.C. wine

Smoke taint could sour this years vintages if ash falls on grapes

The looming smoke has dropped a sepia-like curtain over most of B.C.

Summer activities have been halted, patio season cut short and now UBC Okanagan PhD student Matt Noestheden says it could affect wine.

“It’s a little too early to tell, the prime susceptibility for the grapes is just coming around for most varietals, depending on where the vineyard is in the Okanagan,” Noestheden said. “The smoke we have seen up to date is a concern but we don’t have a definitive way too find out if the smoke will hurt this years vintage.”

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Smoke taint can affect the wine depending on the susceptibility of the grapes to the smoke coming around. Red wine, or any wine where the skin is kept on during the wine making process is more likely to be left with a smoky or an ashy taste. The molecule in the grape skin called glyoxal absorbs the ash or heavy smoke that falls onto the grape berry.

The smoky skies will delay harvest since the vines are not receiving direct sunlight to ripen. Noestheden says some vintners are nervous and others embrace the smoky scent and taste in their wine, as a part of the Okanagan terroir.

Different wine making strategies including reverse osmosis, or blending previous vintages along with the smoke tainted ones will allow wineries to salvage their harvests. Noestheden says that techniques such as aging in concrete or stainless steel could potentially help the situation instead of using barrels that can add a charred smoke taste and exacerbate the process.

Related: Viva la garagiste, small Okanagan wineries thrive at festival

“The issue really comes in a strong smoke tasting wine where you end up getting a heavy ash flavour. A lot of people like a bit of smoke in their wine and a red that was aged in a strong oak barrel may taste a little smoky and add value but the ash is an off-putting point in wine,” Noestheden said.

Gordon Fitzpatrick, president of Fitzpatrick Wines is not concerned about smoke taint at his winery just yet. Previously, Fitzpatrick owned Cedar Creek Winery which burned in the 2003 Kelowna wildfires, so he knows what it is like to lose vintages of wine due to smoke taint.

Related: Vibrant Vines named the best winery in Canada

“Last year we had this smoke haze and the only impact it had was that it delayed the ripening a bit,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t anticipate any issues this year, but I always get nervous about saying anything definitely before the wildfires are over.”

The second hand smoke from B.C. and Washington State are not leaving ash on the grapes this year which leaves Fitzpatrick with an optimistic approach to this year’s harvest.

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