Support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service will allow important smoke exposure research to move forward to better understand the effect that smoke has on grapes. Industry groups in California, Oregon, and Washington came together to form the West Coast Smoke Task Force, which encouraged federal funding support to address important wildfire issues affecting grape production areas. A total of $2 million has been allocated to help fund the research effort.
“There aren’t enough tools out there to determine precisely when smoke-exposed grapes will cause wine quality issues and how to remedy those problems. So, the need for research is abundantly clear,” said John Aguirre, President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG). “We’ve got to have more research to help minimize these disruptions.”
The collaborative effort will involve research conducted by the University of California-Davis, Oregon State University, and Washington State University. The lack of understanding surrounding smoke exposure in grapes has led to confusion and industry disruption, particularly in 2018 when several wildfires affected growing regions on the north coast. The research effort seeks to answer several important questions as to how wildfire smoke impacts grapes.
“There’s a lot of variability potentially between grape varietals, different cellar treatments for wine, potentially variability among regions where certain inherent smoke compounds – or compounds that can give rise to a smokey taste – may be inherent to specific varietals,” Aguirre explained. “We need to know, what are the background levels of the complex chemical makeup of wine that contribute to a kind of a smokey element? Then when the grapes are exposed to smoke, what do those elevated levels mean in terms of quality?”
The $2 million in funding will help get the research started, but industry groups hope that more funding will be made available moving forward. The broad scope of the research looking at a number of different factors related to smoke exposure will require time and financial assistance to achieve actionable results. “It’s going to be a long-term research project and we need more funding and I think we’ve got a lot of champions in the California congressional delegation to help us out,” said Aguirre.
Listen to the interview below.