Smoke Taint a Burning Issue for Australian Wineries
on 18/06/12 at 2:05 pmWine
Smoke taint in wine caused by bush fires – both wild and controlled – has cost Victoria‘s wine industry more than 300 million Australian dollars ($298m) over the past five years. It is now considered to be one of the major threats to the Australian wine industry and is the subject of a national symposium to be held in Melbourne later this month.
Dr Mark Krstic of the Australian Wine Research Institute told Wine-Searcher: “The impact of smoke taint on grape growers and wine producers is one of the biggest challenges facing our industry.” He added: “A lot of our premium regions – Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia – are located close to state forests or large eucalypt plantations, where the issues of fire and smoke taint are a particular problem.”
Climate change models predict a drier and warmer future for Australia, which would mean more bush fires. In addition, Victorian wine producers have been dealt a blow by the state government. A 2009 royal commission recommended tripling the amount of controlled burning to prevent bush fires, which could increase the incidence of smoke-tainted fruit across the state’s wine regions. According to Krstic, “There’s a government policy to burn, burn, burn to reduce the intensity of fires but the premium burn time happens to coincide with our grape harvest in Victoria” – the prime time for smoke to affect the grapes.
The smoke compounds that cause taint are believed to enter vines through the stomata (the minute pores in the epidermis of the leaf) and are transported to the grape skins. They then get into the wine when the crushed grapes come into contact with the skins during fermentation. Guaiacol has been identified as the main smoke-taint compound, creating aromas of smoke and leather. Some other terms commonly used to describe smoke-taint characters in wine include hospital disinfectant, burnt rubber and ash tray.