Smoke and Mirrors

    Will the smoke that has been blanketing California’s North Coast wine country – as well as some parts of Central Coast wine country – ultimately show up in the flavor of California wines, vintage 2008?

     It’s a question that lots of people have been asking, so we decided to ask vintners during our recent trek from Sonoma County to the Willamette Valley and back.

     Interestingly, everyone I talked to was willing to offer an opinion, but nobody wanted to go on the record. Why? Because this is uncharted territory. California has had bad fire seasons in the past, but nothing like this year, in which so much smoke lingered over the state’s vineyards for such an extended period of time.

     Here are three of the dozens of comments I jotted down that more or less cover the spectrum of opinion I encountered.

     *** “The smoke will have no impact on wine flavor whatsoever. These days, we can filter out almost any aroma or flavor that people might consider negative.”

    *** “It’s a possibility. I’m not sure we’ll be tasting smoke or bacon fat or other flavors like that, but winegrapes are absolutely products of their environment. The thing I’m most worried about is ripening. If the fires keep burning and producing smoke, will the grapevines get enough sunlight to ripen fully? That’s the big question to me.”

     *** “I’m not sure what impact the smoke will have on my grapes, but we’re planning to wash the fruit thoroughly after it’s harvested, before we begin fermentation.”

     In summary, nobody knows what to expect later this summer and into the fall when the harvest season is in full swing. But virtually everybody we walked to is cautiously optimistic that things will go as close to normal as possible.

     As long as the locusts stay away…

Posted in Wine Buzz
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