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Tessa Marguerite
08/08/2014 8:47 AM
The view of the Sand Fire from Vino Noceto Winery.

Amador Wine Country provides a leading industry for Amador County, with more than 40 wineries sprinkled among the open fields and vineyards of the Shenandoah Valley and neighboring areas. With the flames of the Sand Fire so near, is there a possibility that the deluge of smoke will alter the flavor in the grapes for this year’s wine harvest?

Jim Spinetta, of Charles Spinetta Winery, a 5th-generation Amador County farmer, says no. Although the fire was just two miles from his family’s Amador County vineyards, Spinetta assures us that “We’re safe, because the wind was traveling north and east.”

Spinetta recalled a time, a few years ago, when smoke from a fire in Mendocino County did alter the flavor of the grapes for some Amador County wines. However, those who noticed the smoky flavor liked the taste. “The smoky flavor can be a value added to the wine,” he said, “especially in red wines, such as Zinfandel, Sangiovese or Barbera.” Only traditional care materials were used on the vineyards of Charles Spinetta Winery this year.

BellaGrace Vineyards had a closer call. “The fire was thankfully stopped less than a half-mile from BellaGrace’s vineyard,” said tasting room manager Dewey Allan Owner Charlie Havill added that he does not anticipate any negative effect on the grapes from the smoke.

At Story Winery, where the fire came within 100 yards, a new retardant was used on the vines that will wash off and “hopefully keep grapes safe.” They will start measurements this week on sugar and acidity levels to see if an early harvest is necessary. “We really won’t know what amount of smoke taint we’ll have until the wine is made,” said Rob Campbell of Story Winery. “At that time, we can measure and determine if we want to remove the smoke taint by filtration, reverse osmosis and solid-phase absorption.”

While next year’s harvest of wines from Amador County vineyards are presumably safe, El Dorado County vineyards may be somewhat affected by smoke taint.

Rob Campbell explained what smoke taint is and how it happens: Smoke taint occurs when the smoke of the fire bonds to the grape skins and pulp. Those compounds seep into the grapes and are not immediately detectable by taste or smell in the fruit. After the grapes are picked and start fermenting, those compounds are changed into the aromas we call smoke taint.

In addition to a light smoky flavor, the effects of a wildfire can leave an accumulation of ash on the vines. This hinders the sun from turning starches into sugars on the grapes. Leaves need sun, and if a veil of ash is prohibiting the sunlight, it creates an imbalance in the photosynthetic process.

While some wineries, such as Story Winery and BellaGrace’s wine cave, were obligated to close over the weekend of the Sand Fire, they have all resumed normal operating hours and the majority of Amador County wineries expect to see minimal or no effects from the fire in this year’s harvest.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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