Wineries in western Oregon affected by smoke taint

Wineries are seeing tainted grapes after last summer's heavy smoke.

Posted: Mar 30, 2018 5:11 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- Wine makers were concerned about the wildfire smoke that gripped western Oregon last year, and for some wineries, those fears are becoming a reality.

Some vineyards are being affected by "smoke taint." This happens when smoke lingers around the grapes for too long. The smoke sinks into the waxy cuticle, or outer skin of the grape, and causes the wine to hold on to a smoky aroma and taste.

Staff with the King Estate Winery said fruits in the Willamette Valley won't be seeing too much of an affect.

"We had relatively good air quality during the critical time periods, especially during the run-up to harvest," said Edward Burke, the vitaculturalist with King Estate.

Burke said that the fear is that sometimes the smoky smell and taste will kick in years after the product has been bottled, making it impossible to stop customers from buying tainted wine.

He also said smoke taint is tricky because it's nearly impossible to combat. He said if you try to fix it with things like activated charcoal, you often end up killing the natural aroma and flavor too.

"The subtle, nuanced, complex aromas are exactly what you're trying to instill in that wine," said Burke. "It can render some grapes and wine completely unsellable."

Burke said the areas that were the mostly highly affected were the Portland area, Rogue area, and Umpqua Valley.

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