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Oaky Wines Are Fine. Ashy, Not So Much

This year's crop could be a disaster
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 24, 2020 3:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – Smoke from the West Coast wildfires has tainted grapes in some of the nation's most celebrated wine regions with an ashy flavor that could spell disaster for the 2020 vintage, per the AP. Wineries in California, Oregon, and Washington have survived severe wildfires before, but the smoke from this year's blazes has been especially bad—thick enough to obscure vineyards drooping with clusters of grapes almost ready for harvest and resulting in some of the worst air quality in the world. No one knows the extent of the smoke damage to the crop, and growers are trying to assess the severity. If tainted grapes are made into wine without steps to minimize the harm or weed out the damaged fruit, the result could be wine so bad that it cannot be marketed.

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The wildfires are likely to be "without question the single worst disaster the wine-grape growing community has ever faced," said John Aguirre, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. With this year's harvest underway, some wineries are not accepting grapes they had agreed to purchase unless they have been tested for smoke taint, Aguirre said. But laboratories are too backed up to analyze new orders in time. In every grape he has come across, Noah Dorrance, owner of Reeve Wines in Healdsburg, Calif., told the San Francisco Chronicle, "you could already taste and smell this ashy, barbecued flavor, kind of like a campfire." This has also been an issue in Australia.

(Read more wine stories.)

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