El Niño declaration prompts planning for possible bushfires and smoke in 2023/24 season

10 October 2023

After several months of El Niño watch, the Bureau of Meteorology declared on 19 September 2023 that an El Niño event and positive Indian Ocean Dipole are underway in Australia. The declaration of these events, and their concurrence over spring, reinforces the Bureau’s long-range rainfall and temperature forecasts, which predict warmer and drier conditions for much of Australia over spring and summer. This also translates to an increased risk of bushfires, following three years of wetter seasons, which have increased fuel loads. Early-season fires have already occurred across several states. The purpose of this eBulletin is to support producers in preparing for and managing smoke events, provide tips about testing and deliver a brief summary of new information gained from research conducted on smoke since 2019/20.

Resources available on bushfires and smoke taint 

  • The AWRI’s smoke taint page provides a comprehensive collection of resources on bushfires and smoke taint, including information on sampling, testing, interpretation of results, sensory impact and mitigation options.
  • Wine Australia’s website provides additional resources on fires and smoke, including case studies and podcasts.


Heatwave and bushfire weather tools 


Smoke testing 

  • AWRI recommends that sampling of grapes for smoke testing be conducted around three weeks before harvest, to allow enough time for transport of grapes to a testing facility and for the analytical testing of grapes. Provided the same analytical methods are used, results can be compared to AWRI’s comprehensive background database of smoke marker compounds to assist with interpretation. The publicly available database now contains data for 21 grape varieties grown in Australia.
  • Pre-veraison grapes or leaf samples should not be tested, because there is no background database for these samples to support results interpretation.
  • All results from testing by Affinity Labs (AWRI’s commercial arm) include graphical representations of the results in relation to the background levels database, to assist with interpretation. See this ‘Ask the AWRI’ article for more information.
  • Verbal interpretations of smoke analysis from any laboratories using the same methods as those used to establish the background levels can also be requested from the AWRI helpdesk.


Capacity to deal with a significant smoke event 

  • If a major smoke event occurs, AWRI will work with stakeholders and regional associations to optimise sample collection and transport to ensure the smooth flow of samples to testing laboratories and the shortest possible analytical turnaround times.
  • Question & answer events can be scheduled in affected regions, where needed, in consultation with local regional associations.
  • There is an option for sample preparation in-region to be supported to speed up testing.
  • Affinity Labs has increased its smoke testing capacity since 2020 and plans are in place to quickly ramp up analysis if a major smoke event occurs.


New understanding of the risk of smoky wines based on testing of grapes 

  • Following a major collaborative research project conducted during the 2020 vintage, more information is now available to help producers assess the risk of smoky wines based on grape analysis. Results have been peer-reviewed and published as an open access article in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research.
  • This work confirmed that the current suite of 13 smoke exposure markers in grapes could predict smoky flavour in wine in three varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz).
  • Table 5 of the paper summarises the concentrations of smoke markers in grapes that produced smoky wines in the study, noting that the trial did not apply any remediation to address the smoke impact. Other studies have shown that applying remediation techniques can reduce the impact of smoke in some wines.

For more information or assistance with planning for future smoke events, please contact the AWRI helpdesk on helpdesk@awri.com.au or 08 8313 6600.


The AWRI’s eBulletin is supported by Wine Australia, with levies from Australia’s grapegrowers and winemakers and matching funds from the Australian Government. The AWRI is a member of the Wine Innovation Cluster in Adelaide, South Australia.