Dealing with fire damage and smoke taint

Recent fire activity around Sampson Flat in the Adelaide Hills and Moyston in Western Victoria has affected grape-producing areas. This eBulletin provides information and resources on managing fire-damaged vines and assessing the risk of smoke taint.

  1. Managing fire-damaged grapevines When fires reach vineyards, they can cause significant damage to both vines and vineyard infrastructure. Immediate recommendations for managing fire-damaged vineyards are:
    1. Re-establish irrigation infrastructure and water vines as soon as possible.
    2. Conduct a rigorous audit of the damage within two weeks of the fire event – using the approach outlined in this article:  . This approach will provide information to help with future vineyard management decisions and may assist with any insurance assessments. In cases of serious damage, some destructive vine testing, to assess trunk cross-sectional damage, may be necessary.

    More information on managing burnt vines and on grapevine recovery can be found on the AWRI website. Further references accessible via the AWRI library are listed in this information pack.

  2. Assessing and managing potential smoke taint riskIf a vineyard has not been burnt but has been exposed to smoke there is a chance that vines and grapes may be affected by smoke. It’s important to remember that the sensitivity of wine-grape varieties to smoke uptake depends on the grapevine growth stage. In general, the smoke uptake potential is low through flowering up to the point when the berries are pea size. At this stage, the potential becomes variable (low to medium risk of smoke uptake) and remains variable through the onset of veraison up to three days post veraison. From seven days post-veraison, most wine grape varieties are highly sensitive to smoke taint.If a vineyard has been exposed to smoke sometime after the point when the berries are pea size, it is advisable to assess grapes for smoke taint. This is best achieved by conducting a small-lot ferment and subjecting the resultant wine to sensory assessment and chemical analysis to gauge the potential risk of any smoke taint that might arise from the smoke exposure. Small lot ferments can be conducted at any time from 8-9 Baume to harvest, but it is preferable to conduct them 2-3 weeks prior to harvest to give sufficient time for analyses to be completed and data available before the key harvest decision.

    If sensory analysis of the small-lot ferment wine indicates smoke taint then it may not be necessary to conduct further chemical testing, but if the mini-ferment appears clean, analysis should still be conducted to assess the risk of ‘bound’ precursor compounds. More details on the analyses available from AWRI Commercial Services can be found in this FAQ document.

  3. Adelaide Hills smoke taint Q&A sessionA Q&A session for growers and winemakers with concerns about smoke taint in the Adelaide Hills will be held on Tuesday 20th January.Venue: Bird In Hand Winery, Pfeiffer Road, Woodside
    Time and Date: Tuesday 20th January, 8:45am – 11:00am
    To register please RSVP via email at info@adelaidehillswine.com.au
    This event is free of charge to attend.

The AWRI’s website provides links to a range of resources on smoke taint.

For support in dealing with fire-damaged vineyards or in assessing smoke taint risk, please contact AWRI winemaking services team on 08 8313 6600 or winemaking@awri.com.au.