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How Smoke Damage Effects Wine Grapes

Image courtesy of Mark Longstroth, MSU Extension

As of this month, wildfires have burned more than 8 and a half million acres. The smoke from the wildfires that ravaged the Western U.S. over Labor Day exposed hundreds of vineyard acres to smoke damage.

According to UC Davis, vineyards can act as fire breaks. Ben Smith, executive secretary for the Michigan State Horticulture Society, said the extent of the damage depends on how close the vine is to the smoke.

“It can cause death from heat of the fire—further away, the smoke can actually get into the grape itself,” he said.

When that happens, it can give the grapes a bad taste, and wineries won’t want to use it.

“It can be a little bit of a mystery,” said Smith. “Is this grape going to have bad characteristics? Then they make wine out of it, and it turns out bad. They’ll avoid grapes that have worse smoke damage and probably try to use some of them that have a little bit and mask that flavor.”

Smith said wineries are able to tweak wine flavors and might still be able to use some of the grapes.

“Very light smoke damage they’ll probably be able to use those grapes,” he said. “For heavier smoke damage, they won’t be able to.”

Michigan ranks seventh in the top 10 states that produce the most wine in the U.S. Even though Michigan wineries use all the grapes the state produces, but Smith said there might be an opportunity.

“If that juice is unavailable this year, it could potentially be an opportunity for local grape growers,” said Smith. “[However], the Michigan wine grape industry is pretty small, and most everybody who wants a home for their grapes is able to find one.”