Smoke Exposure

Our Research

Wildfire smoke exposure of grapes has been a recurring issue in recent years. Researchers at Oregon State University, University of California-Davis, and Washington State University were awarded a USDA-NIFA-SCRI planning grant to assess stakeholder needs in dealing with smoke exposure. The content informs a research strategy and full grant proposal that would assist the industry in successfully managing and mitigating the risks from smoke-exposed grapes. Learn about chief industry concerns and the developing research strategy below. 

Smoky notes in wines are not necessarily easy to detect. (Photo by Craig Allyn Rose)


OWRI's Smoke Exposure Team

The economic impacts of determining how to manage, mitigate, and potentially prevent smoke impacts on grapes and wines are significant and affect processes throughout the wine production cycle. Presently there are no effective ways to deal with this problem, and in the worst-case scenarios, vineyards have had grape contracts canceled and wineries have noted smoke related sensory impacts in wines. Profits from regional tourism have also been greatly affected.

Research scientists throughout the US are conducting a range of research projects to address this issue. Oregon State University (OSU) is the leader of a federal planning grant on smoke impacts to grapes funded by the USDA-NIFA-SCRI (Specialty Crops Research Initiative). Three stakeholder meetings were held in early 2020 in California, Washington, and Oregon. The information from these stakeholder meetings is being used to develop a full SCRI grant proposal that addresses specific stakeholder needs. The full proposal will be submitted in 2021, and OSU be the lead institution in collaboration with UC Davis and Washington State University. Stakeholders for this research include grape and wine companies, crop insurance companies, marketing companies, risk management entities, and the tourism industry.

Currently, OSU has funding from the American Vineyard Foundation (AVF) and the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research (NCSFR) for smoke exposure research. The research focuses on determining the compounds that cause negative qualities in grapes and wine due to smoke exposure. We are attempting to determine this by creating labeled smoke (carbon-13 labeled) that will allow us to track the compounds in the fuel source that are released into the smoke, the smoke compounds that are taken up by the grape, and lastly determine the compounds from the grapes that end up in the final wine. Determining the smoke compounds that give rise to negative qualities in wine is crucial to developing prevention, mitigation, and management decisions for the future.

Recent research at OSU has developed tasting standards for the ashy component in smoke impacted wines by dissolving burnt leeks into water. This research also lead to the discovery that a 1 g/L pectin rinse can also reduce carry-over effects from smoke impacted wines. This ensures winemakers can still sample many wines during the fermentation process without identifying an unimpacted wine as impacted by wildfire smoke. In more groundbreaking work from OSU in collaboration with Washington State University, the research group identified new compounds that contribute to the flavor of smoke in smoke impacted wines with phenols called thiophenols. These new compounds are chemical derivatives of the smoke phenols and provide new avenues of research into testing and mitigation.

Additional funds made available in collaboration with USDA-ARS, will be used to start work on determining thresholds of smoke compounds in wine. Determining the rejection threshold in wine will allow the industry to determine economic thresholds in the vineyard and winery. These thresholds are critical for risk management decisions that can have a great economic impact on the grape and wine industry. Essentially, this will allow us to determine the points at which mitigation practices are economically feasible.

Work from current and future projects will help reverse the economic impact of smoke exposure. We envision the development of a large risk management decision tree so that stakeholders can effectively manage this problem and reduce concern about having little/no profits in years plagued with forest fires.

If you have further questions, please contact any one of our enology and viticulture faculty on the OWRI Smoke Exposure Team:

Wildfire and Smoke Exposure Resources