A problem familiar to California natives is causing problems for grape growers in Australia’s King Valley. Situated in Victoria, the valley experienced severe wildfires in 2007 and 2009. Some grapes harvested in those years were rejected entirely, others were made into wine only to discover that the wine was tainted with the heavy aroma of smoke, making it of no commercial value. Some estimates say the industry lost $300 million due to smoke taint aroma. Suddenly, research into methods of mitigating the negative effect of the smoke became high priority.

Researchers studied several varietals harvested in the King Valley after the 2007 brushfires, and found they could isolate the compounds that caused the smoke taint. They also observed that taint could be identified chemically in older wines, and that the aroma seemed to intensify as the wines aged. This means the shelf-life of wines made from exposed fruit that were not severely tainted at the outset may be considerably limited. The researchers say that testing after future brushfires to determine the smoke index in the fruit could help growers decide which fruit to market, and help winemakers decide which fruit to make into wine.

More research is being done to determine if certain varietals of growth stages are more susceptible to smoke than others. The research is being conducted by Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries; more information is available on their website.


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