Is bushfire smoke affecting wine production?

Published by Tamara Harrison - 11th Jan 2020

Angels have been asking winemaker Jen Pfeiffer about the impact of the smoke in the atmosphere to the fruit, as to whether the fruit can be tainted by the smoke. Keep on reading to find out what Jen has to say.

The level of smoke we are experiencing is very concerning to us, but it certainly feels like an insignificant complaint when compared to the loss of life, property, wildlife, and livestock that is being experienced by those less fortunate than us.

What we do know about smoke taint is that the fruit absorbs the smoke from the atmosphere through the skin. The closer the vineyards are to the fire, and the duration to which the vineyard is exposed to the smoke, affects the amount of smoke compounds in the atmosphere and therefore the uptake of smoke in the fruit. We also know that grapevines tend to absorb more smoke taint at veraison (where the berries change colour and sugars start to accumulate in the fruit), through to harvest. The smoke binds to the sugars in the berries, and then when the fruit is fermented (or matured in barrel or bottle) smoke is released into the wine.

In terms of our management strategies for smoke taint, there are some practices we can adopt to reduce the level of smoke taint in the wine, such as handpicking white fruit (to minimise the breaking or rupturing of the skins), keeping the fruit as cool as possible, minimising fermentation time on skins in red wines, and reverse osmosis on finished wines to remove smoke compounds in the wine.

Timing is everything during veraison. Once we have more fermentable sugar in the fruit, we will start running small scale trial ferments to measure or predict the level of smoke taint we will experience in the fruit.

I am also on the hunt for fruit from areas that haven’t experienced high levels of bushfire smoke, to help mitigate the risk.

There are certainly some challenges ahead.

I pay homage to all the firefighters who are working so hard to protect us all, and have everything crossed that we get some soaking rains over the fire areas to put these fires out.

Cheers, and rock it like a redhead, Jen.


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