Oregon and even Washington could feel the impact of wildfire season.
The U.S. wine region faces another challenging year in terms of the number and intensity of fires that raged throughout the summer. “In total, 107 large fires burned 1.6 million acres in 14 states,” says Gregory Jones, director of the Evenstad Center for Wine Education at Linfield College in Oregon.
He adds that while the California and Pacific Northwest regions have still experienced fires – and the total number of fires since the start of the year is not significantly higher than in previous years – the number of acres damaged is currently increasing. It also notes that although the bulk of the fires were caused by a combination of natural and human causes, the results were more severe this year because much of the West Coast has been in the grip of drought for some time. .
Firefighters worked overtime to fight the fires. “Nowadays, Oregon And Washington There have been 1,853 wildfires and 23 large fires are currently burning. Nearly a third of available personnel nationwide are managing fires in the Pacific Northwest,” says Traci Weaver, Portland-based public affairs manager for fire communications at the Regional Office of Communications and Fire Protection. Pacific Northwest community engagement at the Forest Service.
And conditions could get worse. “We have not yet reached the peak of fire season in the PNW (Pacific Northwest), which traditionally falls around August 21. Our fuels (vegetation, logs, anything that can burn) are setting records drought,” she adds. She also notes that more than 330,226 acres of land have been affected by fires in Oregon and Washington. More than 71 percent of these Pacific Northwest fires are considered to be human-caused.
The biggest fires are taking place Californiathe two Mendocino Complex fires alone, according to CalFire, have burned more than 300,000 acres and destroyed 221 structures this week.
“Conditions across the state continue to be hot and dry so vegetation has not recovered from the drought,” says Heather Williams, CalFire public information officer. “The winds, again mixed with low humidity, are really continuing to fuel this fire.” The combination of winds and warmer-than-normal temperatures “created perfect conditions for explosive fires.”
Fires and flavors
Unlike the fires that devastated Northern California’s towns and vineyards last October, the current large fires broke out before all of the region’s grapes had been harvested and subjected to veraison. As a result, growers may not understand the true extent of potential damage to vines and grapes before harvest.
“Although grapes can be affected by smoke at any time during their development, their susceptibility increases significantly after veraison. Thus, the impact of smoke on grapes in southern Oregon depends on the maturity of the grapes as well as the composition of the smoke… “The fresher the smoke when it reaches a vineyard, the more likely it is to have an impact on the grapes,” explains Anita Oberholster, cooperative extension specialist in oenology at the University of California, Davis.
“Research has found a substantial increase in the levels of certain flavor compounds, such as free guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol, in wine made from smoked fruit,” she adds.
When wine undergoes fermentation, “volatile compounds that reside in the vines and grape skins release compounds similar to those from an ashtray,” notes Linfield’s Jones. He adds that these flavors aren’t “your typical smoky notes from oak.” However, he shares that most producers are unlikely to sell wines they believe might show signs of smoke odor and are quite rigorous about testing for compounds that might reveal off-flavors in wine.
The short-term forecast for the West Coast therefore promises to be labor intensive. “Our firefighters, incident management teams and support staff are prepared for a ‘marathon’ rather than a ‘sprint’,” a Merlin Fire Information Team spokesperson said- Oregon, Taylor Creek, battling a lighting fire. on the Rogue River in southern Oregon, which has been active since July 15. At the highest level of fire activity, nearly 3,000 homes were under various evacuation orders.
All is not lost
Vines do not burn easily and often function as effective firebreaks for structures and other crops around them. Additionally, most academics don’t think the vines will suffer long-term damage because the smoke odor doesn’t carry over into the next season, according to Oberholster.
Additionally, leading educators say the actual damage to grapevines and vineyards is likely minimal at this time. No vines or vineyards were damaged in the recent spate of fires, according to Alexander D. Levin, a viticulturist and assistant professor in the department of horticulture at Oregon State University in Central Point, Oregon.
Let’s hope the future looks better. In the long term, “science is trying to develop mechanisms to better detect smoke odor thresholds,” Jones says. Oberholster adds that the wine industry also uses various treatments to mitigate the effects of smoke odor that may be present in the finished product. However, they can remove much more than just these aromas.
“Most fining agents reduce the amount of smoke-derived volatile phenols and the wines studied had less intense smoky characters. However, most fining agents lack specificity, meaning they will also remove compounds other than spoilage compounds and could have an impact on the quality of the wine.”
However, the bottom line for the West Coast harvest is that “we really don’t have the data to make predictions. It’s really a matter of wait and see,” she concludes.
No financial consultant would comment on the potential economic cost of the recent fires. Much of the wine industry will continue to have to hold its collective breath, with or without masks.
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