Smoke study

Jenna Fryer, an Oregon state graduate student, processes grape samples before analyzing the grapes for smoke compounds.  ## Photo by Sean Nealon

Give research a boost

By OWP staff

Oregon State University West Coast researchers and a team of university collaborators have received a $ 7.65 million grant to study the impact of smoke exposure on grapes, a project that will provide essential knowledge to wine growers and professionals alike. owners of vineyards severely affected by widespread smoke from forest fires in recent years.

Oregon state researchers will work with scientists from Washington State University and the University of California at Davis on the four-year project, funded by the National Food Institute and USDA Agriculture.

“Smoke-related events are only increasing, and last year made it clear that we need to be better prepared,” says Elizabeth Tomasino, associate professor of oenology at Oregon State and principal investigator for the grant. “This research will go a long way in providing tools that will enable the grape and wine industries to quickly make decisions that have a significant impact on their economic livelihoods.”

The grape and wine industry contributes $ 220 billion to the U.S. economy, and wine grapes are the country’s most profitable fruit crop, according to WineAmerica, a Washington, DC-based group representing the wine industry. wine.

Forest fires remain a significant threat to these industries, as persistent exposure to smoke compromises the quality and value of wine grapes and adversely affects wines. This danger is particularly pronounced on the West Coast, where California, Oregon and Washington rule as three of the country’s four major wine-producing states.

An economic analysis of the 2020 wildfires estimated the losses at $ 3.7 billion, a figure that will be felt at least until 2023 as many wineries have decided not to produce wine from it. grapes of 2020 due to the severity of the impacts of smoke from forest fires.

In the wake of the difficult 2020 vintage, the West Coast wine and wine industry wants to better understand the impact of the density and composition of smoke on grapes, vines, wine composition and sensory perception of the wine. wine in a glass. The research team calls this a “smoke-to-glass” understanding.

With the grant, the team seeks to: (1) develop new technologies and establish low-cost sensors and sensor networks for real-time risk assessment in the vineyard; (2) assess the impact of exposure to smoke on the health of grapes and vines; (3) develop grape coatings to reduce or eliminate absorption of smoke components in grapes; (4) optimize a fast, small batch fermentation method to predict what a smoke impacted wine will taste like when fermented on a commercial scale; (5) determine the sensory quality thresholds of smoke compounds in wine; (6) link environmental, chemical and sensory data to create predictive modeling of smoke risk for grape and wine quality; and (7) create an integrated outreach component to communicate research results and their use, and enable industry to benefit from them.

The grant builds on other recent research efforts into the smell of smoke in the state of Oregon.

Last fall, researchers including Tomasino and others at the Oregon Wine Research Institute, hosted in the state of Oregon, quickly mobilized to process more than 600 grape samples and 800 wine samples. from producers in Oregon, using gas chromatographic mass spectrometers to analyze the types and levels of smoke compounds.

In June, the Oregon Legislature approved $ 2.6 million to fund an Oregon state testing lab to assess the impact of smoke from wildfires on grapes in vat, orchard fruits and other crops.

The work planned with the new grant builds on previous research by the same team and is made possible through funding from the American Vineyard Foundation, the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research, and the National Institute of Food and Nutrition. USDA agriculture.

Other Oregon state researchers involved in the new project include: Alec Levin, James Sterns, Yanyun Zhao, and James Osborne, all of whom are from the College of Agricultural Sciences or the Oregon Extension Service. State University.

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