Hello HELLO! It’s been awhile, and I must apologize. The fall season has already begun in the wine industry, and the fruit has been ripening slowly due to the heavy smoke blanket in August. Smoke influence and the possibility of smoke taint is one of the most talked about topic in the wine industry due to the dominance of forest fires in BC during the growing season.
As the smoky August day wore on, we found ourselves at Arrowleaf Cellars taking in the view at their gorgeous picnic area lined with storybook weeping willows and lush lawn just begging for a set of bocce balls - but what should have been a lovely view clear across the north end of Okanagan Lake was instead obscured by a thick layer of smoke caused by the nearby forest fires. The BC Wine Institute (BCWI) has spearheaded efforts to educate wine drinkers and winery staff on the influences of smoke and forest fires on the development of grapes in the vineyard. The initiative is motivated by a lack of understanding in the general public of the consequences of forest fires on the development of grapes and to educate tasting room staff on the principle influences of smoke on grapes and the wine produced from smoke-tainted berries.
According to BCWI, the chair of the BC Wine Grape Council (BCWGC) has identified smoke taint as a high priority for research. The overview from the BCWI draws from “UNDERSTANDING SMOKE TAINT” by Wesley F. Zandberg (UBCO, J. Agric. Food Chem.), funded by the BCWGC.
Zanderberg’s study presented some important initial findings for the industry:
The presence of ash on the berries does not guarantee you will have smoke-taint. Nor does the absence of ash mean you won't have smoke taint.
Washing the berries after smoke-exposure (via overhead irrigation) will not decrease the risk of smoke-taint.
Testing for smoke-taint marker compounds can be done immediately after smoke exposure, rather than waiting until close to commercial maturity.
Supra Research and Development, southeast Kelowna, provides testing of berries and wines for smoke taint marker compounds.
There is no evidence of carry-over effects in the vine from year-to-year (i.e., you can't taste last year’s taint in the grapes).
Evidence from the study suggests that smoke taint presents itself in a regional fashion: both the levels of volatile phenols and the way in which they are biochemically transformed/stored within grapes appears to vary from region to region. It has been recommended that this variance be catalogued over several growing seasons.
(Courtesy of BCWI)
The overview sums up Zanderberg’s study with the following key messages:
Smokey notes in a wine is not the same thing as smoke taint
Smoke taint in wine arises from very close exposure of vines to wildfire at very specific stages
in berry development
Currently we do not expect to see significant impact from the 2018 wildfires
There is no evidence of carry-over effects in the grapevine from year to year
Researchers and vintners around the world are increasing focus on understanding smoke taint and investigating ways to prevent it
(Courtesy of BCWI)
While the study presents its findings in a fairly neutral way, the industry is in celebration of the influence of the thick smoke blanket on the 2017 vintage.
Winemaker Kristy French had this to say about last year’s harvest:
It was pretty smoky throughout the entire Okanagan Valley for the last couple of weeks in August. Similar smoky conditions were seen last year, and some are hailing 2017 one of the best year for wines because of the smoke blanket.
Indeed, interesting things can happen when the grapes are protected from the brunt of the brutal summer sun. As the bunches mature on the vine and all sorts of metabolic changes take place, temperature plays a crucial role in the development of sugars and acids in the grapes. Temperatures soaring above 35 degrees are too high for the grapes to develop and many important biological processes shut down in severely hot conditions. So, the smoke blanket may have actually been a positive in some way this summer!
Dr. Zanderberg, author of the study, stated, “smoke taint in wine arises from very close exposure of vines to wildfire at very specific stages in berry development. Currently we do not expect to see significant widespread impact from the 2018 wildfires.” (Zanderberg, Wesley. “Quantitating Volatile Phenols in Cabernet Franc.” 2017.)
While the grapes may have been huddled under the protective blanket of smoke, our poor lungs were getting the brunt of the smokey skies as we continued our wine tour through Lake Country, BC. Next stop was The Chase for a tasting followed by a lovely lunch set against the rolling hills of Lake Country vinifera. The woodfire margherita pizza was killer, complimented beautifully by an accompanying glass of 2016 Garden Bistro Pinot Noir. Even a lack of fresh air couldn’t taint our experience on the patio. The portfolio available for tasting was quite typical of the area, Reisling in two styles were featured - I ended up falling for Block 11, a deliciously fresh and slightly sweet style made from the most favoured Block of the property known for its exquisite expressions of Okanagan Reisling. Ripe Gala apple harmonized with a creamy lemon meringue and fleshy peach notes, a celebration of Okanagan tree fruits danced across the palate ending in a lengthy fruit finish with a warm hint of spice.
The final stop of the day took the troupe to Arrowleaf Cellars, where we experienced the full brunt of a busy summer afternoon in the Okanagan - on a Tuesday! Unlike Blind Tiger, Arrowleaf has kept the doors wide open to big tour groups, as was evidence immediately by the long thick service rope with a sign detailing where tour groups should wait for expedited service with another line designated for the general public. To be honest, the layout for tastings was very discouraging; I don’t like to sound pretentious in the least bit, however, at first glance it did closely resemble the generous lineup at Wal-Mart or Winners, with consumer cattle being fed through, the only thing missing was the Aisle of Temptation - you know EXACTLY what I mean. That huge long row or endless selections of things you never knew one could possibly need yet once eyes are laid on such an object one simply MUST acquire them or feel no satisfaction ever again in anything they pursue in life. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but I stick to my analogy. What Arrowleaf really should do is wind their lineup around the wineshop - which was unfortunately stashed away at the very end of the tasting area.
As it seemed to be a particularly raucous, long wait for a tasting we decided to skip it and head out to the picnic area to take in the view, where I found myself pondering in the calm before the storm… thinking about this season’s harvest, what the grapes have to offer us this year and what is to come in The View’s cellar, where apples and wine meet and have even been known to have a party or two - thanks to our Sangria Cider release this last spring. The busy feeling of summer has been decidedly replaced by a new anticipation as the grapes begin to roll onto the crush pad, one by one as each varietal opens itself up to the perfect point of ripening. As I sit and write this we are already well into September (the 25th to be exact) and my body is already feeling the wear of the physicality of harvest, and my mind is weary and already wanting of a glass at the end of each shift. Its a good feeling though, there is so much to be learned and so much to write about!
Look forward to a few different things this fall on the blog: Fall recipes with all my favourite ciders and beers included in each recipe, as well as a new feature post on our GLUTEN FREE HOMEBREW DAY, where we successfully brewed an all-grain gluten free pale ale, all thanks to the genius of my better-half and his dedicated brewmaster father. You guys rock!
Until next time - Drink wine, because life’s too short to keep things bottled up ;)
XO - Babbling Bottles
Special dedication for this post goes out to Charline Panert, who lost her life shortly after this day occurred. Words fail to encapsulate my deepest condolences for her entire family.
ALL ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHY © AMBER RAE BOUCHARD