Smoke taint fears for wine grapes

By Jamie Salter

Concerned winegrowers from north-east Victoria gathered at a meeting in Milawa last week to address smoke taint in grapes caused by recent bushfires.

The Smoke Effects on Wine Grapes in North-East Victoria forum was organised by the North East Catchment Management Authority to share information on potential problems the industry will face.

The meeting was hosted by Brown Brothers winery on January 15, with 234 people attending from Beechworth, Rutherglen and the Alpine and King valleys.

Bushfire smoke compounds get absorbed into grapes, and the Australian Wine Research Institute said consumers had negatively responded to smoke-tainted wines.

The AWRI said when vineyards and grapes were exposed to smoke it resulted in wines with undesirable sensory characters, such as smoky, burnt, ashy or medicinal.

Brown Brothers viticulturist Sean Dean said the workshop provided useful information to ensure a successful harvest.

“We know that smoke taint certainly affects the taste of the wines if fruit with smoke taint is harvested,” Mr Dean said.

“The AWRI presented information on how to limit the smoke effects.

“The main solution is working at how much smoke has been affecting those areas and then looking at what parcels of fruit we harvest and what we're unable to.

“One way to test fruit prior to harvest was to take berry samples from vineyards after the fruit starts to ripen and send it away for analysis to detect smoke compounds."

Winegrowers will assess current smoke conditions before harvest begins in February.

Wine Victoria board member Damien Sheehan said remedies during the winemaking process included avoiding a process that is too extractive, through hand-picking and cooler fermentation.

“We're advising people to test their grapes and Agriculture Victoria co-ordinators will be collecting samples for wine growers and sending them to laboratories,” Mr Sheehan said.

North East CMA regional agricultural landcare facilitator Lachlan Campbell said research needed to be completed around the cause and effect of smoke taint.

“The outlook is mixed, the industry is incredibly concerned with what might eventuate and keen to understand how badly they're affected by it,” Mr Campbell said.

“The cellar doors are pretty much empty from no-one visiting, which will create big loss combined with interruption from the smoke.”