Smoke Exposure

Our Research

Wildfire smoke has been a recurring issue in recent years. Our research results are helping wineries prevent and manage risks from smoke-exposed grapes. 

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


The Research

Compounds from the smoke fuel sources are released into the smoke and taken up by the grape. The compounds are metabolized by the grape and cause off-flavors in wine. Identifying the smoke compounds that give rise to negative qualities in wine is crucial to developing prevention and management strategies. Currently, the OWRI team is determining which compounds cause negative sensory qualities caused by smoke exposure. 

Determining how to manage, mitigate, and prevent smoke impacts on grapes and wines has significant economic impacts for the wine industry. There are few effective ways to deal with this problem, and in worst-case scenarios, vineyard grape contracts are canceled, and wineries have severe smoke related sensory impacts in wines, making them unsalable. 

To address issues of smoke exposure to grape and wine production, Oregon State University (OSU) is leading research on smoke impacts funded by the USDA-NIFA-SCRI, in collaboration with researchers from local USDA-ARS unit, UC Davis, and Washington State University. Stakeholders include grape and wine producers, crop insurance companies, marketing companies, risk management entities, and the tourism industry. A stakeholder advisory committee meets with the researchers from these institutions annually.

Progress to Date
  • New smoke compounds identified. The OSU team in collaboration with Washington State University, identified thiophenols as the compounds that contribute to the smoke flavor in impacted wines. Thiophenols are chemical derivatives of the phenols contained in smoke and provide new avenues of research into testing and mitigation. This class of chemistries had not before been considered. This finding has had international impact. Listen to a podcast on this topic or read the scientific paper

  • Sensory standards and protocols developed. Tasting standards for the ashy component in smoke impacted wines were created at OSU by dissolving burned leeks in water. Sensory research has determined that a 1g/L pectin rinse can reduce carry-over effects from smoke impacted wines. Use of this rinse enables winemakers to sample many wines during the fermentation process without carryover effects that would wrongly identify a wine as wildfire smoke impacted. This has practical and direct application for wine producers in their cellars as they conduct quality control. Read the scientific paper here

  • Assisting decision-making. Additional funds will determine sensory thresholds of smoke compounds in wine. A research-based rejection threshold in wine will allow the industry to document vineyard and winery economic thresholds. These thresholds are critical for risk management decisions that have great economic impact on the grape and wine industry. A decision-making tree will allow industry to determine the points at which mitigation is economically feasible, allowing industry to manage the economic impact of smoke exposure. 


Wildfire and Smoke Exposure Resources 


The Research Team



The team was awarded a USDA-National Institutes of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative (USDA-NIFA-SCRI) planning grant in 2019 that allowed them to assess stakeholder needs in dealing with smoke exposure. Three stakeholder meetings were held in early 2020 in California, Washington, and Oregon. The information from these stakeholders meetings directly contributed to the research objectives for a full USDA-NIFA-SCRI grant funded in 2021. More funding was sought and obtained to expand the team's work over the years, including funding from American Vineyard Foundation (AVF), Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research (NCSFR), and USDA-Agriculture Research Service.