August 23, 2018 7:01 pm
Updated: August 24, 2018 8:14 am

Wildfire smoke could be bad for Okanagan’s wine-making industry


The Okanagan is known for its wine production, but the valley is also unfortunately gaining a reputation for becoming a hot spot for wildfires — and that could be bad for the wine-making industry,

“The grapes are actually at a sensitive period of their development right now, where smoke exposure has a higher probability of impacting them,” said researcher Matt Noestheden, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna.

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Noestheden has been studying the impact of smoke on grapes, and wine, for two years now. He said as the number of wildfires grows, so too does concern about the consequences of wildfire smoke.

“There are chemicals in the smoke that can get inside the grape,” Noestheden said.

“And during fermentation, those chemicals can be changed a little bit so that we can then taste and smell them and these chemicals taste smoky; they can taste ashy like you lick an ashtray.”

READ MORE: A hint of smoke: B.C. wineries look for ways to cut wildfire risks

Noestheden said while there is no strong evidence to suggest there will be a problem this year, concern is out there.

“Every winery that we speak to is concerned about it,” Noestheden said, “Especially given the strong, very dense smoke we had over the last week.”

While research on the impact of smoke on Okanagan-grown grapes continues, in Australia, the consequences one year were significant with the industry taking a multi-million dollar hit.

“In bad smoke years, it can be really bad,” Noestheden said. “In 2009 in Australia, they had some pretty bad bush fires there and it cost the wine industry there $300-million in lost revenue simply due to smoke-tainted wine.”

READ MORE: Hazy skies but message clear — Similkameen Valley open for business

After studying the impact of smoke on grapes for two years, Noestheden will now turn his attention to exploring ways to insulate grapes in the field and developing strategies to lessen the smoke impact during the actual wine-making process.

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