Fresno State winemaker says smoke is an enemy to wine grapes

Smoke penetrates the skin of the berry

The wildfire in northern California's wine country is going to impact the taste of some wines now and for years to come. Winemakers say smoke is one ingredient that can ruin a good bottle of wine.

The wildfire in Napa and Sonoma has brought the grape harvest to a halt. It's a possibility that grapes still hanging from the vines will never be picked. Tom Montgomery is the winemaker at Fresno State winery. "Any of the crop that is still out there would very possibly be tainted."

Smoke is an enemy to every grape berry. It invades the grape skin. "When the smoke is continuous and it is heavy over a period of days the contamination is pretty heavy. So it's very hard to get rid of it."

Enology professor Dr. Miguel Pedroza showed us how penetrating smoke can be. He took two drops of liquid smoke and mixed them in a liter of water. He then took two drops from the mix and added it to another liter of water. He says the smoke taste is not strong but noticeable. "It will contribute always to this smoky, leather, wood aspect in the wine."

Some wineries will decide it's a gamble worth taking. "Then for wine that will be done with those grapes will need to see how much potential smoke taste is."

Winemaker Tom Montgomery has dealt with two previous smoky grape crops. He saved one and lost the other. He believes the best solution is to get the grape juice in the tank and then measure the smoke levels.

Montgomery recently moved from the Sonoma area. His home there is still threatened by the wildfire.

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