When the smoke clears: Wild fire and its affect on wine

Most wineries may not be touched by fire, but most are certainly affected by smoke.

Fires rage in wine country, both north and south of the border. British Columbia, Ontario and California are ablaze.

We think of the large and renowned areas of Niagara, the Okanagan, Sonoma and Napa but there are many other affected areas in wine country, the small and lesser-known wineries and vineyards of the neighboring areas. Perhaps they are not touched by fire, but most certainly affected by smoke.

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There has been considerable damage to wineries, buildings, storage facilities, homes and vineyards, and the fall-out from the loss of tourism is concerning and long-term. Tourism accounts for approximately 25 per cent of a winery’s income and that is devastating in its self.

Tourists not only visited wine-producing areas to sample wines, but were also drawn to the natural beauty of the surroundings. This, of course, has changed. Following the 2017 “inferno” in California, the wine company Caymus released a two page add featuring the image of pristine vineyards with tree covered hills in the background accompanied by the words “no matter what the obstacle, wine country will prevail.”

I sincerely hope so.

Following the 2017 fires, significant funds were spent promoting tourism both in Canada and south of the border. It is expected measures such as the re-location of tasting rooms will help. Last year there were government subsidies and banks offered concessions, but how likely is this to continue? Loss of tourist dollars is far-reaching and will affect the livelihoods of winery workers and tourism-dependent businesses.

Fire will wipe out vineyards, but those wineries untouched by fire are far from unaffected. Smoke-taint is a major concern as smoke imparts smoky, char and ash aromas and flavors to wine. Winemakers have some methods to manage and treat the damaging effects of smoke, but not if the damage is severe.

Smoke taint was not as concerning in mid-October of 2017 when fires ignited because in California, an estimated 75 per cent of grapes were already harvested. The 2018 fires have begun much earlier in the season and harvest has not begun.

Grape varieties mature at different rates so smoke exposure affects certain varieties more than others depending on the stage of the grapes’ development. Other factors come into play, such as the thickness of grape skin. Thin-skinned grape varieties are more susceptible to smoke taint than thick-skinned grape varieties. Chemical analysis is able to determine the level of smoke exposure and if levels are high, many grapes will be disposed of. 

The 2018 fires do not compare to the “inferno of 2017.” They are much worse. There is little doubt the aftermath of these fires and, predictions indicate, the more intense fires to follow will have extreme and long-term effects on the wine industry. 

Central Tuscany is home to the famous wines of Chianti. The pairing potential of these wines, made from the Sangiovese grape, is vast due to their moderate to high acidity, low tannins, limited oak influence and aromas and flavors of sun-baked earth, orange peel, dark cherry and red berries. Chianti is the perfect summer red wine for pasta or pizza with red sauce, grilled sausages, lamb, and charcuterieplatters.

The following wines are my go-to Chianti's:

• Carpineto Chianti Classico $19.97

• Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico, $26.01

• Marchesi de Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina, $19.99; a perennial favorite.

Would you like red, white or rosé?

Would you care for red, white or rosé I inquired, but I already knew the answer, or thought I did. His reply of “rosé” left me nothing less than stunned. Had I been sitting I would have fallen off . . .

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