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Wildfires in Wine Country

HOW IT EFFECTS THE GRAPES

Smokey skies often create a protective barrier to shield the grapes from sunburn. They also can create a greenhouse-like effect to aid in ripening the grapes. 

If grapes are in close contact with smoke, the skins and sugars of the grape may experience a chemical change. Grapes are most susceptible to this chemical change during the time between veraison and harvest.

WHAT ABOUT SMOKE TAINT?

In some cases, a smoke derived chemical change in the grape may cause smoke
taint in the finished wine. A wine with smoke taint has powerful burnt aromas and flavours of campfire or wet ash.
* This is different than the smokey character achieved when a wine is aged in toasted oak barrels.

Smoke taint often has an excessively drying back-palate and an ashiness that fills the nasal cavity on the finish.

Smoke taint is only detected oncethe grape must has fermented.

Smoke taint is observed less in white wines because they spend less time on the skins during fermentation.

ASSESSING A WILD FIRE VINTAGE

Phenomenal wines are made amidst the challenges of a wild fire vintage. There are multiple variables to consider when assessing how wild fires affect the vintage’s wine, such as the proximity of the vineyard to the fire, and the intensity of the smoke.

Trust good producers: they will only release good wines. This means it is highly unlikely that they will allow any smoke tainted wines to ever hit the market shelves.

Wild fires are an important factor in the overall growing conditions of a vintage, and are likely to contribute unique traits to the wines of a particular year. However, the presence of a fire is not in itself enough to determine the overall quality of a vintage.

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Alex Anderson is a wine writer, graphic designer, and holds a WSET Advanced certificate with distinction. She is also a CMS certified sommelier and Wine Align apprentice judge at the NWAC (National Wine Awards of Canada). Alex is a Vancouverite with a passion for wine, communication and design. A sommelier by night, and an international freelance graphic artist and writer by day. You can connect and follow her vibrant and insightful wine endeavours on Instagram @wine.with.alexx

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