By Derek Schlennstedt
As smoke descended onto the Yarra Valley last week, wine growers hastily harvested their vines to protect them from the damage that smoke can cause.
Grapes that are exposed to smoke can result in wines with undesirable sensory characters, such as smoky, burnt, ashy or medicinal, taste.
For many wineries they are unsure how the smoke will affect the grapes remaining on the vines but Richard Howden, CEO of the Yarra Valley Wine Growers Association, said it was unlikely that vineyards in the area would be affected.
“We don’t believe there are any issues of smoke taint, but we won’t know conclusively until a few weeks,” Mr Howden said.
“There was some smoke around for a few days and that’s always concerning, but we monitor it very closely and work with the department of Environment and Water to minimise the impact.”
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) organised up to 100 planned burns in forests and parks from 3 April until 9 April, and more are still to come.
Research is taking place to determine the effect smoke has on grapes.
Franco D’Anna owner of Hoddles Creek Estate and vice-president of the Yarra Valley Wine Growers Association is working closely with DELWP in researching the impact of smoke on his harvest.
“We’re doing a smoke trial here with the State Government and DELWP.”
“We can measure smoke taint, there was a lot of smoke around but it’s hard to know the impact because you have to determine the intensity of the burn and the type of smoke,” he said.
Mr D’Anna said that due to it being a cooler year in the Yarra Valley, the harvests had started and finished earlier which resulted in the harvest period overlapping with the burn-off period.
“There was still quite a bit of fruit to be picked, because it was an abnormal cool year.”
Cabernet, shiraz and most red wines are more affected than white wines due to the grape taking a little longer to ripen.
Red wines are more affected by smoke as they are fermented with the grape skin which then leeches and releases the absorbed smoke in the fermentation period affecting taste.
DELWP, which manages a majority of the burn-offs, states that they do a lot of consultation with individual wine growers and wine growing associations about minimising the impact the smoke has on the grapes.
“Forest Fire Management Victoria is committed to balancing the concerns of vignerons in the Yarra Valley with the need to complete planned burning to reduce bushfire risk to people and property in the area,” DELWP Yarra district manager Nigel Brennan said.
“When considering each burn, we take in to account timing, wind direction and potential impacts of smoke – but the decision to burn is always driven by the need to reduce the risk of damaging bushfires.”
“By working with the association and growers we are best placed to minimise the smoke impacts of these burns while reducing bushfire risk in the area.”