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Wine Spectator: How Will Weeks of Wildfire Smoke on the West Coast Impact the 2020 Vintage?

September 17, 2020

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. More than 100 wildfires are burning in 12 Western states this week, creating unhealthy air quality in many regions and causing new complications during the crucial harvest period in the country’s most prestigious wine appellations. With the sky—and vineyards—blanketed with smoke in many places, winemakers are anxious about the possibility of smoke-tainted wines.

In Oregon, the flames are still raging, with towns evacuated in Rogue Valley and smoke hanging over Willamette Valley. To the south, it has been nearly a month since lightning strikes ignited massive wildfires in California that threatened wineries and vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Firefighters continue to battle pockets of the LNU and CZU Lightning Complex fires but have mostly contained the blazes. By Labor Day weekend, vintners were busy harvesting their grapes and tasting rooms reopened.

What will weeks of smoke do to the 2020 vintage?

As the name implies, smoke taint can impart smoky flavors and aromas to a wine that render it unpleasant and unmarketable. Wines impacted by smoke taint are not harmful to drink, but they’re not pleasant. At high levels, the taste has been variously described as campfire, ashtray and char.

Prudy Foxx of consulting firm Foxx Viticulture in the Santa Cruz Mountains has dealt with smoke taint before. She said that if a grape cluster is heavily impacted, “it smells like the bottom of a wood stove.” Wine Spectator has the full story.Augustus Weed

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