Wine is interesting in part because grapes are like sponges soaking up the influence of the local soils and weather conditions that shape the flavors in the finished product. But that can have a down side. Smoke from the unusually persistent fires in the west threatens to damage the grape crop in Washington, Oregon and parts of California. Not only does smoke block the sun thus preventing grapes from ripening properly; it also permeates the grape causing what is known as “smoke taint”—an ashy aroma that when too prominent can be unpleasant.
Dealing with smoke taint is difficult because it often doesn’t emerge until well into the winemaking process and to my knowledge there is no foolproof way of getting rid of it. I’ve been in the Midwest for several weeks far from the activity surrounding harvest on the West coast. But from what I hear, attempts to deal with smoke taint will dominate the conversation about the 2017 vintage.
And get ready for a slew of wines that will remind you of barbecue—after the fire is out.