September 26, 2018 6:22 pm
Updated: September 26, 2018 9:51 pm

Naramata Bench winemakers optimistic wildfire smoke won’t impact quality of grapes as harvest gets underway

Global News discusses the impact of smoke on the Okanagan’s wine industry.

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It’s still early in the 2018 wine harvest, but Naramata Bench winemakers are cautiously optimistic that August wildfire smoke will not have a significant impact on the vintage.

Mary McDermott is the winemaker at Township 7 Vineyards and Winery, and was busy processing Riesling on Wednesday at the McMillan Avenue facility.

She, like many other wine producers, watched anxiously as the Okanagan was blanketed in thick smoke for several weeks this summer due to wildfires burning aggressively in the region.

McDermott doesn’t expect smoke to affect the yield.

“At this point, we don’t see too much of a problem,” she said. “A number of wineries are doing testing on juice, and, so far, the results have been positive.”

Employees at Township 7 Vineyards and Winery were busy destemming and pressing Riesling grapes on Wednesday.

Shelby Thom / Global News

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At Lake Breeze Vineyards, Garron Elmes has been making wine for the past 23 years.

“I’m relatively comfortable that we’ve squeaked through this year unscathed,” he said.

However, he was worried about possible smoke taint.

“The weather patterns trapping the smoke in the valley for such a long time doesn’t happen all the time, so we were concerned for a little bit.”

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Industry-funded research at The University of British Columbia Okanagan found that direct and prolonged vine exposure to smoke during the ripening process could change the flavour profile of the wine.

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Kathy Malone is the chair of the B.C. Wine Grape Council that funded the research.

“They found that there are certain procedures that don’t help, such as washing the berries, but also that it is very difficult to predict if there will be smoke taint until after the fermentation is finished,” she said.

While winemakers appeared to have dodged a bullet this harvest season, they know the threat of wildfire smoke is not going away.

“I think a lot of us have thought of it as an Australian problem up until the last two years. But I think now we do need to start thinking that this could have significant impacts in the future,” Elmes said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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