Smell of smoke: B.C. Wineries look for ways to limit natural risks

VANCOUVER – Winemakers can only hope that the smell of smoke in British Columbia will not swirl through the forest when the vintages of this year are bottled.

Smoked grapes can give an asmic, bitter taste to wine and tests have been developed to help growers assess the quality of their grapes, said researcher Matt Noestheden, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna.

"For this season time will be learning. If I could (predict the quality), I would be a rich man", he said in a telephone interview.

"We are working this year on ways to protect the grapes, but grape growers can not do anything to protect the grapes."

Red wine grapes, such as the Pinot Noir variety that is widely planted in the Okanagan, change color from green to red in a process known as Veraison. That process is now underway in the region, Noestheden said, adding that wine cellars avoided every danger last year because smoke from forest fires took place early in the growing season and not because the grapes changed color.

"That two to three-week period from full relay to a few weeks thereafter is where the grapes seem most susceptible to the problem," he added.

The B.C. The health index for public health, with a measurement of particulate matter, the Okanagan said Tuesday as moderate, but it is expected that the valuation would rise above Wednesday. Bulletins warn of smoky skies from Environment Canada said the communities in the interior of B.C. would likely see a further deterioration in air quality through the week, as westerly winds are predicted to blow wildfire into the region.

The B.C. Wine Grape Council has identified smoke odor as a priority for research and has contributed to funding the work of the University of British Columbia Okanagan to find ways to identify the molecules involved in smoke residues.

As for this year's fires, the B.C. The Wine Institute says it does not expect it to have a "significant impact" because there is no evidence that vines from year to year are affected by smoke.

"Researchers and wine merchants all over the world are paying more and more attention to understanding smoke odors and examining ways to prevent this," the institute says in a document on its website.

It also says that a smoky tone in a wine is not the same as smoke.

Nests work with Okanagan's Supra Research and Development to identify chemical markers for smoke odor and he said that wineries from B.C. to California await the outcome. He doubted that the wineries in Ontario would be affected by wildfire in that province.

"They do not get the amount of smoke we do," he said.

The tests developed with Supra research are used in field trials and the findings can offer solutions for grape growers in regions where wildfire lingers.

"Now we feel that we can understand the chemistry enough so that we can think about ways to isolate the grapes in the field," Noestheden said.

"We are also looking for ways in which winemakers can increase their fermentation to limit the influence of smoke on the final taste and aroma of that particular wine."

The best solution this year for worried winemakers is to make a small batch of wine and drink immediately after the grapes have been harvested, he said.

"We are trying to push back that timeline further, so that winemakers can fine-tune their fermentation, but at the moment the best advice is to make the wine and taste it."

Beth Leighton, The Canadian Press

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