Another fire season in California has resulted in another series of challenges for winegrape growers as it relates to smoke exposure. Over a million acres have been burned in recent weeks, leaving multiple areas of the state covered in smoke. Many wineries are refusing to accept grapes until test results confirm that the grapes have not been affected by the volatile compounds associated with smoke exposure. The limited number of testing facilities is creating a backlog of grapes to be tested, creating significant and potentially costly delays in vineyards.
“If the delay is a 30-day delay, then effectively that winery is saying ‘we’re not going to take your crop.’ So that’s a problem,” said California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) President John Aguirre. “Delays at this point in time in the harvest cycle and the growing season, can be absolutely devastating to a grower.”
CAWG is encouraging communication and cooperation between growers and wineries when it comes to smoke exposure. While some contracts may have specific provisions related to smoke exposure, many do not. “What’s not appropriate is for a buyer to unilaterally make decisions that aren’t expressly allowed or permitted under contract and to make decisions and take actions that would result in the loss of the crop. That’s patently unfair and in many cases absolutely isn’t permitted under the contract,” Aguirre noted.
While research is continuing to shine more light on the issue of smoke exposure in grapes, there is still much more that needs to be better understood. Research has shown that simply being exposed to smoke does not necessarily mean that grapes will be damaged by the volatile compounds related to smoke exposure. Further complicating the issue is the fact that some of those compounds naturally occur in winegrapes, which will require further study.
“We don’t have a good understanding of what’s the baseline level at which these compounds appear in grapes and that can vary by varietal,” said Aguirre. “If you’re testing for the presence of these compounds and you don’t know the background levels, you can see the obvious problems.”
Listen to the interview below.