Reducing the impacts of bushfire smoke on Victorian wine
Compounds within smoke from bushfires can have a detrimental effect on grapevines at certain stages in the growing season and can adversely affect grape and wine quality. After the 2009 bushfire season, smoke tainting of Victorian wines resulted in losses of more than $100 million to the wine industry.
The subsequent Victorian Royal Commission, investigating the 2009 bushfires, recommended significant increases in areas of controlled burning to minimise bushfire risk. Increased controlled burning was likely to impact on key regional wine regions throughout the state particularly where these are adjacent to areas of native vegetation, for example, the King and Ovens Valleys, Pyrenees and Yarra Valley.
Consequently the Victorian Government has funded smoke taint research with an additional $4 million over four years from 2011 to 2015 to minimise the impact of bushfire smoke taint on Victorian and Australian wines.
This project targets Victoria's wine regions.
To minimise the impact of bushfire smoke taint on Victorian wines by:
- Developing and implementing methods that detect and accurately determine levels of smoke taint in grapes and wine at known smoke exposure levels.
- Determining wine varietal susceptibilities and smoke uptake mechanisms throughout the stages of vine and grape development.
- Determining the varietal expression of tainting in red and white wine varieties.
- Developing strategies to minimise impacts on susceptible grape varieties at susceptible growth stages.
- Develop strategies to remediate tainted wine.
How will this research contribute to productivity?
- There are more than twenty phenolic compounds that can contribute to smoke taint in wine.
- Smoke taint compounds need to be measured in grapes and wine as both "free" and "bound" to accurately determine taint levels.
- Bound (conjugated) taint compounds are released during aging of wine and can contribute significantly to tainting in mature wine.
- Red wines made from identically smoke exposed red and white grapes are likely to exhibit higher levels of taint compounds compared to white wine due to fermentation of the red berry skins which include adsorbed taint compounds.
- Free run juice is less tainted and will result in less tainted wine than pressings from smoke exposed grapes.
- Grape varieties vary considerably in their susceptibility to smoke exposure, such that individual varietal exposure is necessary to determine susceptibility to taint at different growth stages.
- Maloloactic fermentation produces the same taint levels as traditional fermentation in Shiraz wine made from identically smoke exposed grapes.
Research partners and collaborators
The latest fact sheets on smoke taint are on the Horticulture Industry Network website.
Publications and reports
Singh DP, Chong HH, Pitt KM, Cleary M, Dokoozlian NK, Downey MO (2011) Guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol accumulate in wines made from smoke affected fruit because of hydrolysis of their conjugates. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. 17, S13-S21
Kelly D, Zerihun A, Singh DP, Vitzthum von Eckstaedt C, Gibberd M, Grice K, Downey M (2012) Exposure of Grape to smoke of vegetation with varying lignin composition and accretion of lignin derived putative smoke taint compounds in wine. Food Chemistry. 135, 787-798
Senior Research Scientist