Updated October 12, 2020

This Toolkit is intended to be a resource for members of the Oregon wine industry to provide support on the topic of the impacts of wildfire smoke on grapes and wine.

Questions? Email us.

General inquiries: OWB Team
Technical inquiries: Bree Stock
Media inquiries: Sally Murdoch

ALERTS

Distribution Locations of PPE for the Agriculture Sector & Farmworkers | Governor Kate Brown is directing state agencies to distribute more than 100,000 KN95 masks to Oregon’s agricultural sector. This critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is available at no cost to the agricultural community. The goal is to help protect agricultural workers from exposure to smoke due to wildfires and COVID-19. Several state agencies including the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon State University (OSU) Extension, and several Oregon Health Authority- Protecting Oregon Farmworker community partners are working together to organize distribution across the state.

WILDFIRE COMMUNICATION TIPS

This season’s wildfires have created a challenging environment for both producing and discussing the 2020 vintage. As we transition into recovery, you may find yourself wanting to comment on the impact of the 2020 wildfires to your mailing list, social media followers and visitors. You may also receive questions from curious customers.

Here are a couple important things to remember:

1. As you craft your message, consider your neighbors.
Oregon’s winegrowing regions are vast and diverse so what’s happening in your vineyard may not reflect the status of your neighbor, the region or the state. Please consider this complexity and do not publicly comment on the status of the vintage as it pertains to other wineries and vineyards.

2. Be cautious about the words you choose. 
Please avoid using phrases with negative connotations like “smoke taint” or “ashtray.” A good alternative is “localized smoke impact.”

Additional talking points to consider or use in your communications (feel free to copy and paste, no citation is needed):

  • Oregon’s winegrowing regions are vast and diverse so what’s happening in your vineyard may not reflect the status of your neighbor, the region or the state.
  • Every vintage brings new opportunities and challenges. The winemaker’s job is to navigate what Mother Nature brings and impart knowledge gained from the past with new and innovative resources. Our industry is working closely with colleagues in California and Washington as well as with the west coast’s leading viticulture and enology experts at universities and private research labs to conduct scientific and market research on smoke impact.
  • Wineries and vineyards continue to play important roles in their communities, providing emergency support, donations and other resources for impacted community members. You can read some stories from around the state here.

Watch Travel Oregon’s video “Living With Wildfire” for a consumer-facing discussion on wildfires in Oregon delivered in a realistic yet uplifting tone.

WEBINARS

Added Oct. 12: Smoke Exposure – Crop Insurance and Winegrape Contracts | Presented by the California Association of Winegrape Growers | Oct. 9, 2020

Navigating Smoke-Related Challenges |Presented by the Oregon Wine Board | Sept. 22, 2020

Oregon Wine Industry Round Table on Wildfire Smoke |Presented by the Oregon Wine Board | Sept. 16, 2020

A Conversation on Smoke and Winegrapes with AWRI | OWB’s Bree Stock MW and  Tom Danowski talk with AWRI Senior Oenologist Matt Holdstock | Sept. 15, 2020

RESOURCES

Resources from Research Institutions

Testing Information

ETS Laboratories

Brooks Applied Labs (Washington state)

Supra R&D (British Columbia, Canada)

  • Advice from Supra Lab on Shipping Grapes to Canada for Testing:
    • Shipping grapes to British Columbia requires export documents. Frozen, chopped or shredded grapes are exempt from the requirements for a phytosantitary certificate. It is highly recommended to process the grapes or send wine due to border complications, and packages should be labeled with what is inside, not “plant material.”
    • For guidance on export documents to ship to B.C., producers in Oregon and Washington should contact Davin Potts (davin.c.potts@usda.gov /509-925-1189).

Sunrise Analytical (Tigard, OR)

Frequently Asked Questions on Wildfires | USDA Risk Management Agency, September 2020

Fact Sheet on Crop Insurance for Grapes | USDA Risk Management Agency, September 2019

Smoke Taint Losses for Wine Grapes (video) | Golden Pacific Crop Insurance

Please contact Stacey Kohler if you know of additional places that have KN95 masks in stock and available to our industry members.

Statewide talking points for 2020 wildfires in Oregon | OWB Media Relations provides talking points to use with writers inquiring about the impact of fires on the 2020 vintage

Oregon Wildfire Information Toolkit | Travel Oregon has compiled a list of news, resources and alerts to assist residents and visitors in navigating the fire conditions.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS / AREAS OF INTEREST

What sensory affects can wildfire smoke have on grapes and wine?

When vineyards and grapes are exposed to smoke this may result in wines with undesirable sensory characters, such as smoky, burnt, ashy or medicinal. The compounds in smoke primarily responsible for the perceptible effects are the free volatile phenols that are produced from burning. These can be absorbed directly by grapes and are bound to grape sugars to produce phenol-glycosides that have no smoky aroma. Often these glycosides are described as smoke exposure precursors. During fermentation (and also over time in barrel or bottle) the glycosides sugar-phenol bond breaks, releasing the free volatile phenols into the must or wine, and allowing the smoky flavor to be perceived by tasters.

Both the volatile phenols and the precursor compounds are known to have a sensory impact on wine, depending on the amount in the wine. It is only at high levels that smoke compounds negatively impact wine quality. The following fact sheet from AWRI provides sensory thresholds for smoke exposure compounds and additional information about the sensory effects of smoke exposure in wine: Sensory impact of smoke exposure.

A study investigating consumer acceptance of wine blends with differing proportions of smoke-affected wine was completed in early 2020, with results summarized here: Case study: consumer acceptance of smoke-affected wines (AWRI).

What factors affect smoke exposure in the vineyard?

The key factors that determine whether smoke-exposure becomes perceptible in grapes and wine are the grapevine growth stage, grape variety, smoke composition and the length of smoke exposure. More details about vineyard risk factors can be found in the following fact sheets:

What are options for managing smoke-exposed fruit?

There are a number of steps that can be taken in the vineyard and winery to minimize the sensory impacts of smoke exposure. These include hand harvesting, excluding leaves, keeping fruit cool, separating press fractions, fining and reverse osmosis treatment. More details are available in the following fact sheets:

Assessing grapes affected by smoke exposure

The AWRI recommends assessing the risk of perceptible smoke exposure via a combination of analytical testing of grapes and sensory assessment of a small-scale ferments made from the same grapes.

Grape samples should be submitted for analysis of volatile phenols and non-volatile smoke precursors. Tips for sampling, packaging and transport of grapes for smoke analysis are here: Grape sampling, processing and transport following vineyard smoke exposure.

Smoke analysis is available from a number of ETS Laboratories in the U.S., and additional analysis providers.

Conducting a small-scale ferment of potentially affected grapes allows wineries to conduct sensory assessment of the small-scale wines and gain further information to help determine the potential risk for perceptible smoke effects to develop in wine. A protocol for conducting small-scale ferments for this purpose is available here: Small lot fermentation method. You can alter the procedure for wines as needed, for example do not ferment on skins if you do not do this normally for your white wines.

Smoke analysis results and interpretation

Smoke analysis results will include the volatile compounds guaiacol, methylguaiacol, ortho-, meta- and para-cresol, syringol and methylsyringol, as well as the non-volatile precursor compounds syringol gentiobioside, methylsyringol gentiobioside, phenol rutinoside, cresol rutinoside, guaiacol rutinoside and methylguaiacol rutinoside. More information on what the analytical results mean, as well as the sensory impact on wine, can be found in this article: Smoke – analysis and interpretation.

A note from Dr. Elizabeth Tomasino of Oregon State University:

Analysis is available from several labs. There are multiple reasons for testing grapes and wine for smoke exposure. A standard test to determine if grapes have been exposed to smoke involves testing for marker compounds. Presence of these marker compounds in grape samples don’t necessarily mean that the wine will have negatively perceived smoky off-flavor, rather they indicate that the grapes were exposed to smoke.

Potential for smoke off-flavors in wine is often estimated by testing volatile compounds released during fermentation. Rather than waiting 6-9 months, it is common to prepare rapid mini-ferments and test for free smoke associated compounds such as guaiacol, 4-methylguaiacol, 0-cresol, m-cresol, p-cresol and syringol. It is worth noting that research has not yet confirmed flavor threshold levels for these compounds nor is it clear which compounds cause actual smoky flavors in wine. Research has also shown that different grape varieties do not uptake these compounds in the same manner and that the fuel source of the fire will alter the composition of these compounds.

Due to widespread smoke exposures this season, there may be a long wait for analytical results. A quick way to get a preliminary idea of smoke exposure is to conduct sensory analysis on mini-ferments. The combination of analytical results and sensory analysis on mini-ferments may provide guidance for wine making decisions.

Legal / contract concerns

If you are worried about legal/contract issues the following is recommended: Take detailed notes on the sensory of those wines, who smelled them and the descriptors used, and the dates they were evaluated. Gordon Burns at ETS Labs recommends freezing samples and getting the bound compounds measured at a later date once this is available and lab space has opened up. USDA insurance has said that as long as samples were taken prior to harvest and then analyzed at a later date, this can be used for insurance purposes, although it is recommended to check with your agent as well. Finally, speak with your growers in advance about what they require for their insurance contract needs to be met. This may require cancellation of contract in advance with no fruit harvested.