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Wildfires and Smoke Taint Impact on Grapes and Wine

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, wildfires have also been a catastrophic force in Northern and Southern California burning almost 4 million acres to date. Wildfires are adverse ecological disturbances, with the global geographic distribution being heavily dependent upon three major factors- frequency of ignitions, availability of vegetative resources, as well as environmental conditions that promote burning and wildfires. Among the environmental contributors that lead to an increased frequency of wildfires, increased mean daily temperatures with fluctuating mean air humidity levels (wet or dry oscillations) that lead to first accumulation then burning of biomass are important factors.


Effects of Wildfires on Grapes and Wines

Along with the debilitating damages to residential and commercial properties, wildfires that occur in close approximation to vineyards result in smoke emissions with increased “smoke taint” in grapes and subsequently the wine that is harvested from them. Smoke taint on grapes and its by-products is described as “burnt,” “leathery”, “smoky” and “medicinal” and leaves a lingering “cold ash” aftertaste on the palate. Smoke-tainted wines result can result in massive financial losses for wine producers due to product being unpalatable and unfit for consumption.

According to grape and wine researchers, smoke derived volatile organic compounds, particularly phenols are important contributors to this smoky taint. Amongst these volatile phenols, the presence of guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol was found to contribute to the objectionable smoky taint in wines, with levels corresponding to the degree of smoky taint in the wine.  The levels of free guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol serve as markers for detection of smoke taint in grapes and wine, hence providing early detection and timely interventions.


How can you test for smoke taint?

To help properly assess the potential damage of smoke taint to your product, Adamson Analytical Laboratories (Corona, CA) plays a key role with our smoke taint analysis capabilities of free guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol in grapes as well as wine samples. For testing, all we require is at least 250 undamaged berries for grape testing and at least 4oz of wine and results can be available in as little as 1 business day. We are fully ISO-17025 accredited for testing smoke taint in grape and grape products.

Method: GC-MS/MS method after liquid/liquid extraction of the milled grapes

LOQ: 0.5 µg/kg for guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol

Protect the quality of your brand and continue to give your customers a high-quality product by contacting us today for testing.


Peter Darbey

Adamson Analytical Laboratories

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