Best Practices for Working with Smoke Exposed Grapes
Last updated: 11/2023
Applies to: Winemakers who are making wine from grapes exposed to smoke and are looking for strategies to minimize the damaging effects of smoke compounds on wine quality and style. The full guides are available for download at the end of the article.
SMOKE EXPOSURE AND WINEMAKING
Smoke is an aerosol of small solid particles and/or liquid droplets generated from burning material. Smoke composition varies depending on type of material that has burned, extent to which material has burned, and intensity of heat.
How does smoke affect wine quality?
Smoke contains many undesirable compounds for winemakers including small volatile phenols that may smell and taste smoky, spicy, plastic-like, fecal and are sometimes likened to cigarette smoke and dirty ashtrays. Once these compounds permeate the grape they can bind with sugars and other compounds found in the grape skins. When smoke compounds are bound to grape components they are often odorless and tasteless. However, during fermentation and aging, smoke compounds can be released from their bound form resulting in unwanted smoke odors and flavors. This means that grapes and juice may smell clean but the resulting wine could have unwanted smoke aromas and flavors!
Why does smoke affect wine quality?
Research into the effects of smoke on grapes and wine quality is ongoing and we are not able to answer even some of the most basic questions. The information and best winemaking practices presented here are based on information publicly available from research groups working on smoke exposed fruit within the United States and Australia coupled with Scott Labs’ long experience with winemaking processes, products, and know-how. Despite publicly available research and our know-how, there are no guarantees that any particular strategy will reduce, prevent, or ameliorate the impact of smoke on wine quality and style.
Tips for assessing smoke exposure and preventing contamination:
- Run smoke taint marker compound analysis on the fruit and wine (etslabs.com).
- Conduct a micro-fermentation pre-harvest to determine risk (etslabs.com).
- Do not cross-contaminate wines in the cellar by blending prematurely.
- Assess risk from anhydrous cellar chemicals (bentonite, cleaners, acids, etc.) so that you don’t taint clean wines.
HOW TO USE THESE GUIDES
These guides are organized by winemaking stage. For each winemaking stage we have proposed one or more Best Practices and an explanation for how that practice could positively effect smoke exposed grapes. Our Best Practices can be categorized into four types of strategies:
- Minimize: Practice may minimize smoke compounds from entering the system.
- Remove/Reduce: Practice may remove or reduce smoke compounds from the wine system.
- Counterbalance: Practice may push wine style in a direction to counterbalance the effect of smoke compounds.
- Quality Preservation: Practice prevents microbial spoilage or other flaws which could exacerbate impact of smoke compounds