4 Nov 2008, 6:36pm
The 2008 Fire Season
by admin

2008 Cal Winegrape Crop Tainted With Wildfire Smoke

A number of sources are reporting that the smoke from this summer’s wildfires in California may have tainted the 2008 winegrape crop. Megafires from Santa Barbara to the Oregon border poured smoke into the prime Cal winegrape growing regions for three solid months, with probable deleterious effect to this year’s wine vintage.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported in September [here] that

Three months after smoke from wildfires carpeted California’s vineyards, some winemakers in the thick of harvest are reporting grapes giving off unusual odors that may be signs of smoke taint.

While it’s too early to generalize about the scope of the potential problem, some troubling reports are filtering in from Mendocino County, which earlier this summer endured some of the fiercest wildfires and worst air quality in memory.

“Winemakers are saying that they think stuff is smelling funny to them, and they want to know what’s going on,” said Glenn McGourty, viticulture adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Mendocino.

Mendocino County and adjacent Napa and Sonoma Counties were inundated by smoke from the Walker, Mendocino Lightning Complex, and Soda Complex fires, to name a few. Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties endured smoke for months from the Indians, Basin, Gap, and Chalk fires. Northern California counties were choked by smoke from over a thousand square miles of fires that burned for over three months. The San Joaquin Valley suffered smoke-related air pollution from dozens of fires including the Clover, Hidden, Tehepite, and Telegraph Fires.

Over 2,000 fires burned well over a million acres in California this summer. Most of those were ignited by a dry lightning storm that swept the state June 21st. Although most of the fires were extinguished with a week or two, many were allowed to burn all summer long. USFS fire management policies of whoofoo (Wildland Fire Use) and hammer (Appropriate Management Response) led to extended burns that were still smoking in October.

Whoofoos are supposed to “benefit” resources, although the specific resources and the specific benefits are never mentioned in whoofoo reports. In any case, California’s wine industry did not benefit from summer-long smoke.

The Cal wine industry is a $100 billion per year affair. From the Business Network [here]:

California wine industry has $51.8 billion impact on state economy, Wines and Vines, Jan, 2007

The California wine industry has an annual impact of $51.8 billion on the state’s economy and an economic impact of $103 billion on the U.S. economy, according to a report released on Dec. 7 by Wine Institute (WI) and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG). The two organizations commissioned MKF Research, LLC to prepare the study, which was based on 2005 figures.

It is not yet known what the economic impact is of wildfire smoke on the 2008 winegrape crop. What is known is that smoke can taint the taste of wine, adding a tinge of “ashtray” flavor.

The Australian Broadcast Co reported last March [here] on a new study of wildfire smoke effects on in Aussie winegrapes:

Smoke taints wine grapes

ABC Rural, Tuesday, 18/03/2008

A world-first scientific study, conducted by the Department of Agriculture in WA [Western Australia], has proved that smoke taints the taste of wine grapes.

Trials done as apart of the report exposed grape bunches to heavy smoke from burning straw.

An independent tasting panel then said it was 99.9 per cent confident the taste of wine from the grapes was lower in quality.

Report co-author Mark Gibberd of Curtin University says the paper confirms what many have suspected for a long time

“We now have a published report which enables us to clearly demonstrate that if grapes are exposed to smoke, then there is a risk that those grapes will develop a taint in the wine, which would be potentially conceivable by consumers.”

The Wine Business Monthly presented more information about that study in September [here]:

Smoke Taint in Western Australia

As Australia faces a warming climate with increasing bushfire incidences, the issue of smoke-derived taint in grapes and wine has become a regular occurrence. The losses caused by smoke taint vary from year-to-year due to the unpredictable nature of bushfire events.

Smoke taint in grapes and wine, as a consequence of grapevine exposure to smoke, has resulted in financial losses and decline in product quality for several wine producers in Western Australia. Fire events have created smoke taint damage to grapevines on numerous occasions and have affected winegrapes grown in the Perth Hills, Swan Districts, Blackwood Valley, Great Southern, Manjimup and Pemberton regions.

The Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) and Curtin University of Technology initiated research into the effects of smoke on grapes and wine in 2005. A research program has been developed to solve some of the mysteries surrounding smoke taint and to provide management options to vignerons. …

Fruit from all field-based experiments of smoke application to grapevines has been made into wine. Wine sensory analysis techniques, such as difference tests, aroma detection thresholds and quantitative descriptive analysis, have been employed. Fruit and wine samples have been analyzed by gas chromatography mass spectrometry analysis by the AWRI for key smoke indicator compounds of guaiacol, 4-methylguaiacol, 4-ethylguaiacol, 4- ethylphenol, eugenol and furfural. …

Research results: Initial investigation by DAFWA and Curtin University has revealed that grape and grapevine exposure to smoke impacts the chemical composition and sensory properties of wine, leading to an apparent ’smoke taint’. This research has for the first time established a direct link between smoke and the sensory qualities of wine. Sensory studies established a perceivable difference between smoked and unsmoked wines (Kennison et al. 2007; Kennison et al. 2008b).

ClimateWire (a subscription Internet news service) described the “sensory properties’:

Even the most hard-core oenophiles will find it hard to name the notes in wines affected by “smoke taint.” The effect has been described as wet ashtray, charred meat, burnt coffee or smoked salmon, and it’s present in a significant percentage of California’s wines this season, experts say.

Climate Wire also noted that:

Kay Bogart of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis, said smoke taint is particularly dangerous to farmers in that it “doesn’t show its ugly teeth until after fermentation. You’ve invested all that money in grapes and production, and you’ve got a wine that is pretty much irreversibly damaged,” she said.

The Wine Spectator notes [here] that:

Smoke Taint a Concern in Northern California Vineyards, September 30, 2008

Laboratory tests have confirmed that the chemicals from the smoke are still present in some grapes. “We have seen samples that show smoke taint,” said Jerome Lillis, a chemist at Vinquiry Laboratories in Windsor. While the samples have shown perceptible notes of taint above sensory threshold, Lillis cautioned that the methods of detection are still being validated. He also said that smoke taint has only appeared in a handful of wines so far.

That appears to be the case, as many vintners are reporting no signs of smoky grapes. Milla Handley, of Handley Cellars, who has been testing the grapes personally and sending samples to be lab tested, said that all the grapes coming through her winery have been clean. Even though the fruit doesn’t appear to be tainted, the winery will still be taking precautions. “[We’re] going to be a little more conservative in our winemaking techniques this year,” said Handley.

Whether or not smoke taint is an issue, many winemakers are taking steps to mitigate any possible effect on their wines. Drew is decreasing the maceration time of his grapes and using a shorter cold soak and a gentle punch down to limit the amount of contact the skins will have with the juice.

Winemakers outside of Mendocino County are less concerned with the issue. Monterey County and Lake County were also hit by wildfires but the grapegrowing areas appear to have been too far away from the fires for the smoke to cause a problem. “I have talked to several growers and winemakers and no one is aware of any smoke taint,” said Shannon Gunier, executive director of the Lake County Winegrape Commission.

It’s too early to tell what kind of effect the smoke taint may have on the finished wine. Paul Ardzrooni, who manages vineyards in Anderson Valley, said that since the taint is site specific, no generalizations can be made about the smoke’s overall effect. He also notes that while the concern exists, it has not kept winemakers from buying the grapes.

Winemakers will have to wait until spring when the wines are being bottled to see if the smoke taint is an issue. If any of the smokiness persists, some winemakers say they may look into taint-removal systems. “It may be a lot of worry over nothing or it could be a stamp of the vintage,” said Holstine.

Wine taint removal systems based on reverse osmosis (RO) have been touted [here], but some vintners believe that RO leaves a “scar” on the wine flavors [here]. RO also adds cost to a vintage that is sub-par (and priced accordingly). It’s an economic double-whammy.

The overall effect of summer-long smoke from USFS forest fires on the Cal wine industry is as yet unknown. What is known is that fire managers never considered the effect their smoke might have on this major segment of California agriculture. Nor did fire managers consider the effects of smoke from extended fires on public health, recreation, air pollution, or CO2-related climate change.

Had they taken those effects into account, they never would have allowed fires to burn for 3 to 4 months, the practice implemented this summer in California national forests including the Los Padres NF, Siskiyou NF, Klamath NF, Six Rivers NF, Shasta-Trinity NF, Sequoia NF, and others.

Let It Burn has side-effects that occur beyond the boundaries of our national forests. Besides the human health crises from respiratory distress, hundred billion dollar industries can be negatively impacted. The Cal wine industry might consider whether it is truly in their economic best interests to allow the USFS to Let It Burn with impunity.

6 Nov 2008, 6:23pm
by Martha B.

I am the owner of V_____, Inc. referenced in your article.

We are a highly reputable company serving the wine industry. I belong and contribute to many substantive environmental groups.

I am incensed that a site that starts out with a racially inflaming reference to President Elect Barack Obama as B. Hussein would make a reference to our company.

I demand that you immediately remove any reference to our company or our work or employees from your site.

6 Nov 2008, 6:25pm
by Mike

Dear Martha.

1) That’s his name. I didn’t christen him. Check his birth certificate.

2) The B. Hussein reference is in an entirely different post. My mention of V______, Inc. in this post is a quote from the Wine Spectator website and as such is in the public domain. The quote is labeled as such and properly cited with a link to the original. It is entirely in context.

3) It seems to me that the CA winegrowers industry ought to be a lot more concerned about the $billions in damages caused by smoke taint from federal Let It Burn wildfires than with my little blog. You receive no harm from me, but are going to endure major financial catastrophe when the 2008 vintage is tasted.

The winegrowers have two choices. You can pretend that the wine is not tainted. That may not wash when the pro tasters start sipping. Or, you can finally get involved in the quest to stop wholesale landscape destruction (and the externalities that ensue) from ill-managed federal lands.

I suggest you begin by reading:

edited By Andrzej Bytnerowicz, Michael Arbaugh, Allen Riebau, and Christian Andersen [here]

Mike Dubrasich
SOS Forests

6 Nov 2008, 6:40pm
by Mike

How much are the damages from smoke? The CA wine industry claims to have a $100 billion per year economic impact (see above). If the 2008 vintage is devalued by 10%, that’s a $10 billion economic hit.

Considering that roughly a million acres burned in CA last summer, the economic impact to winegrowers alone could be $10,000 per burned acre, or more.

That’s just the impact to one segment of one economic sector. The impact to watersheds, water quality, water quantity, wildlife habitat, old-growth, public health and safety, recreation, timber, other agriculture, housing, heritage, and dozens of other values vastly exceeds the effect on winegrowers.

Some folks claim that wildfires “benefit resources.” The opposite is true. Wildfires harm resources directly and indirectly and for decades after the burning stops.

It is high time that the victims, meaning all of us, catch a clue and join the struggle to promote stewardship of our forests, rather than abandoning our forests to un-management and catastrophic holocausts.

7 Nov 2008, 1:41am
by Tallac

The President-Elect name is:


AKA: Barry Dunham
AKA: Barry Soetoro
AKA: Barry Davis
AKA: Barry Allen
AKA: Whatever

Take your pick. His heritage matters not to me. (Actually it does, and that’s another matter) I wish the President-Elect good will and the best of luck. He’s certainly going to need it.

But with a purchase of potentially tainted products that I do enjoy to ingest with the last dollars I’ll have under this new admistration, it does matter. Especially from a vineyard or producer that ignores a problem as some claim to exist, or not.

So Martha B., please assure me that your and similar products have not been affected by the mega-fires in the West.

Or should we expect another catastrophe in a 2008 Vintage?

7 Nov 2008, 2:00pm
by Martha B.

Your forgot that I already explained to you that I belong to several substantive environmental and forest preservation organizations and that we make financial contributions to these good organizations a priority. You seem to have skipped that point. Don’t tell me to get involved, I am involved.

Racism and hate mongering should have no place in any environmental discussion.

Wine damage is a minor factor in relation to the tragedy of changes in weather patterns and loss of forestland. In your predictions of disaster for the industry, you will be disappointed to learn that only wines from a couple of specific small regions were affected. It is a big problem for these regions, but the industry is not going to “endure major financial catastrophe”.

I feel sorry for you. You are, sadly, creating a world onto yourself that is not helping from an environmental perspective. Have you asked yourself how hate and environmentalism go together? If you you hate your fellow humans, how can you pretend to care about plants and animals and forests.

My demand stands. It’s not that you can do me or the wine industry any damage, it’s that I would not want the name of my business or one of my employees to be on your site or blog or whatever you consider it to be.

7 Nov 2008, 2:01pm
by admin

Dear Martha,

Here is what I said,

For the first time in American history, a president was selected on the basis of his race and race alone. B. Hussein is our “token” president.

That is a fact that has been trumpeted in the headlines of every major newspaper in the world. I deeply resent you calling me “racist” for repeating a truth that everyone knows. I did not disparage BHO’s race, whatever it is. I merely pointed out the obvious, which is also the consensus of the entire world.

Personally, I don’t ascribe to theory of race. I don’t color code humanity. But the rest of the world does, which is stupid and not my fault.

Or maybe BHO was elected out of hatred for Bush and Republicans, as Bob surmised, and as has also been quite evident for years. If so, then the haters were the victors. I don’t hate anybody, but I do hate the destruction of my forests.

It is clear that BHO was not elected because of his agricultural or forest policies, because he has none. As an agriculturalist, you should have been concerned about that. As a forester, I was (and am) very concerned that neither party (or any of the minor parties) have any semblance of a forest policy.

You do not name the “several substantive environmental and forest preservation organizations” you gift. My guess, based on long experience, is that those organizations promote forest holocaust. Look into them and see. The Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Society, and many other so-called environmental organizations have engaged in substantive pro-holocaust lobbying. Those again are the plain facts.

Because of that lobbying the USFS has adopted Let It Burn policies that resulted in long and drawn out fires on the Los Padres NF, Sequoia NF, Mendocino NF, Shasta-Trinity NF, Six Rivers NF, Klamath NF, and Plumas NF this summer. Fires that could have been put out rapidly were allowed to flame and smoke all summer long. Smoke from those fires poured into the Salinas Valley, Napa Valley, Sacramento Valley, and San Joaquin Valley, all major winegrape growing regions.

Was the 2008 vintage impacted? We will not know until the wine is tasted. If even 10% of the 2008 vintage is tainted by “wet ashtray” aromatics, then major, billion dollar scale, losses will ensue. It may bother you to have me point that out, but I am only repeating what has been speculated on key winegrowing sites in California (and Australia).

If you want to call me a racist and a hater for pointing out obvious facts that have wide consensus, then go ahead. It only belittles you. The chickens are coming home to roost.

PS — Your demands regarding my site are denied. Tough toenails.

7 Nov 2008, 3:43pm
by Bob Z.


I am assuming that by “protecting our forests” you mean putting them off-limits to tax-paying American workers such as loggers, tree planters, and foresters. So they can then burn, as Mike states and explains.

If my assumption is correct, you would rather plow, plant, spray, irrigate, and fertilize your acreage with petroleum by-products so that you can make enough money to “contribute” to such forest “protection.”

I am also going to assume that you are part of a multi-billion industry that is more than a little dependent upon the near-servitude of illegal alien laborers from Mexico needed to harvest and process the crops of your pulverized “UNPROTECTED” soils, and also upon the misery of millions of families of alcoholics rife with the beatings, divorces, killings, and other atrocities that accompany dependency on your products. So you can make money and give a small portion to “environmental” organizations. What an environment you must live in!

Do you have middle class white grape pickers operating at family wage-supporting jobs? If not, who is the real racist? Do your grapes grow “naturally” and support native wildlife species’ habitat? If not, who is the real “environmentalist?”

Personally, Martha, unless I am way off on my assumptions, it is you that are the true racist and hypocrite and despoiler of the “natural” environment. Tell me I’m wrong. And why.

7 Nov 2008, 4:04pm
by Tallac

Martha B.,

Let’s try to stay on topic.

Just for a moment, forget about racism, politics and environmental policy.

You’re the expert, so I’ll ask again:

Which vineyards got “smoked,” and which wines should we avoid?

14 Nov 2008, 4:56pm
by YPmule

I believe Martha is part of a large group of Americans that think they are doing the right thing by contributing to “environmental” groups to “save our forests” - its unfortunate that the propaganda has worked so well. Until folks can be educated as to what is happening to our forests, they will continue to blindly follow the wrong path. Martha, I live in a forest, I’ve seen what locking up the forest does - and what happens when they LET IT BURN. It’s ugly and not natural and millions of people have to breathe the smoke (not to mention all that horrid CO2 going into the air.) Let us stay focused on the damage from wildfires - to our health, our water, our food and our wine. Let us work together to educate people and bring a change to forest policies that are harming, not helping, our environment.



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