Scientists search for impact of smoke on grapes

Thursday, 04 November, 2021

Scientists search for impact of smoke on grapes

New research has been funded in the United States to study the impact that smoke from bushfires has on grapes. The research specifically concentrates on American wildfires, which can cause millions of dollars in damage to grapes in the US, but the results garnered may prove interesting for Australian growers.

When grapes are exposed to smoke they can be damaged, which in turn can affect the quality and flavour of the wine that these smoke-tainted grapes are used to make. This funding ultimately aims to provide tools to those in the wine industry to prevent this substantial damage.

The researchers undertaking the project, mainly at Oregon State University, will concentrate on scientifically understanding how smoke affects grapes as well as pursuing new tools for dealing with these effects. For instance, monitoring technologies that can assess the damage smoke will have on a vineyard are on the table, as are coatings for grapes that can prevent damage in the first place.

The researchers also hope to develop a means of quickly understanding the flavour that a smoke-tainted batch of grapes may produce as wine in order to understand if a smoke-tainted batch of grapes is viable or not, without having to go through the entire winemaking process.

As part of the funding, there will be a concerted effort to enable industry to benefit from any results that are gained, and an outreach program in order to communicate any findings will be developed.

“Smoke events are only likely to increase, and last year made it clear we need to be better prepared,” said Elizabeth Tomasino, associate professor of enology at Oregon State, referring to the large fires that impacted the USA’s western coast in 2020. “This research will go a long way in providing tools that will allow the grape and wine industries to quickly make decisions that significantly impact their economic livelihoods.”

With Australian grape growers being especially at risk of wine being tainted by bushfire smoke and the country facing increasingly harsh weather events due to climate change, new tools are constantly required to deal with the range of problems growers face.

Unpredictable weather and other unforeseeable events can have an undue impact on the quality of wine and those that make it, so having a suite of tools and technologies will allow winemakers to counteract climate change-caused weather events.

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