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Sand Fire Brings Smoke Taint Concerns To Amador County Wineries

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AMADOR COUNTY (CBS13) — While most wineries escaped the Sand Fire unscathed, some winemakers are wondering if the fire will affect next year’s wine.

Smoke taint is a real concern for Borjon Winery owner Isy Borjon.

“I got up and looked out the window and I just saw this big cloud of smoke down bell road and my first thought was ‘oh my god, my vineyards,” Borjon said.

And that’s when he sped toward his precious vineyard in Plymouth as the Sand Fire kicked up smoke. The fire came within a couple of hundred yards of his vineyard.

“Didn’t get really close enough to cook them, to fry them or anything like that but still, it was nerve wracking,” he said.

No wineries in the area reported losing their entire crop, but now that the smoke has cleared, the lingering concern is what to do with smoke taint. That’s when grapes exposed to smoke release volatile chemical compounds during fermentation.

“You can’t taste it in the fruit. It normally is in the resulting wine,” said Joe Shebl with Renwood Winery. “Most of the time it’s like a campfire aroma, and it can either be a component if it’s subtle or it can be extremely off-putting if it’s really really strong.”

The truth is, not a lot of research has been done on smoke taint. A study out of Australia found grapes are most susceptible to it seven days after they begin to change color—a stage the grapes in Amador County were well past.

That doesn’t mean experts won’t try to pinpoint the effect of the smoke.

But winemakers in the region agree they won’t know if the smoke from the Sand Fire alters the taste of their wine until they make it.

If wineries find their grapes do have smoke taint, there are filtration processes that claim to correct the taste, but Shebl says putting your wine through a machine “beats it up” a little.

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