Wine Enthusiast Magazine has named UC Davis enologist Anita Oberholster, Tom Collins of Washington State University and Elizabeth Tomasino of Oregon State University “Innovators of the Year” for their research on the effects of wildfire smoke on wine grapes.

They received the recognition in the magazine’s annual Wine Star Awards, which recognizes individuals and companies making outstanding contributions to the wine and alcohol beverage industry. The awards are revered as among the most prestigious in the global wine industry.

Oberholster and colleagues are researching how smoke affects grapes, grapevines, wine composition and sensory perception of wine in a glass. The research team calls this an understanding of smoke exposure from “smoke to glass”. Grapes exposed to wildfire smoke can result in smoke taint, a condition that can make wine taste ashy or burnt.

The researchers are using real-time sensor networks to assess the risk of smoke in a vineyard. They are also researching barriers or coatings that could reduce or prevent grapes from smoke exposure. They hope to ensure that the US wine industry can produce high quality wines irrespective of wildfires.

If grapes are exposed to smoke, especially for extended periods of time, they can impart unwanted flavors into finished wine. That’s smoke taint, and it has the capability to ruin entire vintages of wine. That said, the impact of smoke taint isn’t always cut and dried. You can’t predict which grapes may have suffered damage based on anything intuitive, such as sight, smell or even the flavor of fresh grapes. Just because there’s smoke in the air doesn’t mean grapes are tainted. There are so many variables like freshness of the smoke, number of times exposed, variety of grape.

For more information on Smoke Taint, read the article “When Smoke Gets In Your Wine. What Are the Solutions for Climate Change-Impacted Grapes?”

Source: UC Davis