Local grape growers react to OSU studying the impact of smoke on grapes

SOUTHERN OREGON, Ore. – Southern Oregon is known for it’s abundance of wineries.

But smoke from wildfires in recent years has sometimes affected the taste of the wine.

Smoke damage from wildfires are costing wineries billions of dollars across the west coast.

In Southern Oregon, many are at the center of this issue with no solution in site.

“It has been a significant problem in the grape and wine industry,” a winemaker at Naumes Crush and Fermentation, Chris Graves, said.

Wildfire smoke is having a big impact on local wineries.

In Southern Oregon, many local wineries saw the impact that smoke had on their vineyards when a large California buyer rejected their grapes in 2018.

Depending on where the wildfire is located, it can cause major damage to the grapes.

“Usually if there is a big fire close by the vineyard during the ripening part of the season, that is kind of the worst case scenario,” Graves said. “And that can be significant and lead to a total lose of your grapes.”

He said most of the time there isn’t a huge difference in taste with smoke tainted grapes.

However, Peter Adesman, who owns Peter William vineyard, said sometimes it comes down to the type of grape.

“Thin skinned like pinot noir and chardonnay that are more subtle and pickup more of the environmental factors they are more likely to have an issue,” he said. “And the taste, you can clearly taste it.”

Now, Oregon State University researchers are trying to determine how the smoke is damaging to the grapes.

Researchers have found not everyone can taste the difference in wine, that is tainted with smoke.

“It’s a very individualistic so that’s something we’re trying to figure out how much that individual preference and sensitivity has on the perceptions of these wines,” OSU grad assistant Jenna Fryer said.

In the last couple of years, Oregon State researchers have been simulating wildfire smoke to determine its affect on grapes.

They say the smoke itself attaches to the skin of the grapes, finding that red wine, in particular, is vulnerable to smoke from wildfires.

This year, smoke has not been a big factor, with many wineries expecting no issues to the final product.

“We’ve had relatively minimal smoke,” Adesman said. “We’ve recently had some rain that cleaned up the skins, cleaned up the grapes and I doubt there will be any smoke taint or component to the fruit this year.”

But the research at OSU is still important to the future of one of Southern Oregon’s cash crops.

One local vineyard tells me there is a potential spray being developed that could help shield the grapes from smoke.

Right now, wineries aren’t able to do much to protect their grapes.

UPDATE: The headline of this article has been changed. The previous version may have insinuated that wildfire smoke was currently impacting grapes locally. That is not the case. NBC5 apologizes for the error.

NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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