‘Ashtray’ Wine

August 5, 2015

(Illustration: ‘Wine Glass,’ by BrillianceDisplay, found here).

Even as California gets scorched by some big wildfires, one easing off the fire-fighting radar is the Wragg Fire down in Napa County’s wine country — sparked in late July, and after burning nearly 8,000 acres was this morning considered 98 percent contained. During early stages of the fire, vintners became concerned the blaze looked like it could fire some wineries — all good, though.
Except for the smoke. Now wine-country people are worried about all these fires and all their smoke, and how drinkable is one of California’s huge cash crops.
From the Guardian this afternoon:

One Sonoma-based vintner, who as an independent consultant asked not to be named due to confidentiality agreements with clients, told the Guardian: “It’s a really big concern for a lot of these vineyards who are near fires and all that smoke because for red grapes, where the skin is still used in the winemaking process, that smoke could potentially infuse and create abnormal flavors.”

For California’s wine industry, which produces an average of 90 percent of American wine, according to the Wine Institute, the potential costs of grapes being contaminated by smoke could be significant.
The state’s wine sales last year topped $24bn.
Already, the current drought has already seen a reduction in vineyard yields, which has driven up prices of locally produced wine, according to the Allied Grape Growers, a California trade organization.
If you add in local tourism, the overall revenue linked to the wine industry tops $50bn.
“It’s definitely a concern for us here in Napa and across wine country because we are unsure exactly what the fires and the smoke will do to the grapes,” said Dan Abrams, who was enjoying a glass of Cabernet at the Carpe Diem Wine Bar in Napa, just south of the vast fire.

While vintners, vineyards and wine drinkers alike in California fret over what could amount to the loss of an entire season of grapes, Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Food provides a warning: it previously investigated the effect smoke has on grape and wine production after the country was hit with large wildfires in 2003 near Canberra.
It was not positive news for the industry.
“Wines made from grapes exposed to smoke during sensitive growth stages can exhibit aromas and flavours resembling smoked meat, disinfectant, leather, salami and ashtrays,” said a report.
It noted that when “unfavourable smoke characteristics are detected by consumers at high concentrations”, the wines could be “unpalatable”.

Smoke gets in more than your eyes…

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