In recent years, wildfires have become a major threat to the wine industry because of the effects of smoke on wine grapes. Smoke taint from the California fires of September 2020 significantly impacted the quality of wine grapes. In total, smoke taint cost the wine industry in Western states more than $3 billion in losses from the hundreds of thousands of tons of wine grapes that could not be harvested because of the off flavors imparted by the smoke. The California wine industry alone is a $43 billion a year business and the state’s frequent wildfires are a major threat to it.
Researchers at Oregon State University have developed techniques for eliminating the effects of three volatile chemical compounds that contribute to smoke taint in grapes. The compounds are guaicol, syringol, and meta-cresol.
The researchers developed cellulose nanofiber-based coatings that can be applied to grapes in the vineyard. The coatings can block guaicol and syringol and capture meta-cresol.
Blocking is ideal because the coating doesn’t absorb the wildfire smoke compounds. Therefore, it doesn’t have to be washed off. Capturing means the coating absorbs the compounds and would need to be washed off. Ideally, a coating that doesn’t need to be washed off would save time, money, and water.
Two years of studies at Oregon State found that the coatings do not impact the growth and quality of wine grapes. In an era when wildfires are increasingly common and extensive, growers need something they can spray on their vines to protect their grapes. If the Oregon State technology can be commercialized, it would be a game-changer for the Western U.S. wine industry.
Photo, posted October 3, 2006, courtesy of Naotake Murayama via Flickr.