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Wine Grape ‘Taint’ Rises Anew with Huge 2018 Northern California Wildfires


After the massive North Bay wildfires during harvest in October last year, record-sized blazes this summer in Mendocino and Lake counties, and big burns in Oregon, British Columbia and northeastern California, concerns about “smoke taint” in wine have wafted up from Down Under to become a hot North American industry issue.

Big wineries such as Treasury Wine Estates and Constellation Brands have been exercising quality clauses in their purchase contracts to reject grapes over such smoke concerns, growers told The Press Democrat and the Business Journal. Options include selling at a discount, making their own bulk wine out of questionable fruit or hoping crop insurance will cover fruit left on the vine.

Major Lake County grower and vintner Clay Shannon crushed 6,000 tons of grapes this year, enough for 360,000 cases of wine. But one-third of that haul came from growers whose original buyers claimed the grapes were tainted.

As for the Mendocino County wine grape crop, valued at $120 million last year, officials are compiling a survey of damages reported by local growers.

Australian research on the interplay between smoke in the air and potentially unpleasant “ashtray” smells and flavors in the bottle has found seven culprit compounds, but tests to accurately predict taint and winery fixes for suspect wine are not totally solved, according to local analysts.

Local growers want federal help through 2020 to cover smoke-related losses, the way damages from last year’s wildfires in the state were covered.

Source: North Bay Business Journal

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