Taint Misbehavin’

There are some things you just have no control over…a tidal wave, earthquake, flood, drought, and this past weekend was a grim reminder of the power of fire.  A fast moving wildfire that started in Lake County has grown to over 60,000 acres as of this writing. Nearly 2000 firefighters have been deployed and mandatory evacuations are in effect for much of that region. We were reminded of this developing story over the weekend as a high cloud of smoke covered our hillside for a good part of last Friday. We were already expecting the temperature to be in the low 90’s but the eerie cloud of smoke seemed to ease the heat and the sun looked orange through the haze, like a sci-fi movie. This event reminded me of the wildfires in Mendocino County during the summer of 2008 which cast a pall of smoke over much of the northern wine

growing region…I remember those days, you could taste the smoke and watch the ash gently fall to the ground. It really did taint the summer and also tainted the grapes which were at a crucial point in their development  called ‘veraison’ which is when the green skins of the grapes start to turn red. What is smoke taint? Smoke taint is a condition created when grapevines have been exposed to large quantities of smoke at a key point in the maturation of the grapes.  Smoke exposure from veraison until harvest can result in noticeable traces with the flavor of ‘smoke’ and ‘ash’ in the final wine. The determining factors of how much smoke taint may appear in the wine include how far away a vineyard is from the fire, the density of the smoke and the duration of it’s contact with the grapes. These factors will determine the quantity of the compounds that may have been absorbed. It is up to each winemaker to see if the smoke taint might be an issue at bottling time. Back in 2008, many winemakers ended up selling their tainted harvest to bulk wine instead of bottling. Yet, a couple of years after the Mendocino fires we visited the Goldeneye  Winery in the Anderson Valley and they were brazenly offering bottles of the 2008 Migration Pinot Noir and lauding it’s smokey quality! It was the winemakers choice to release the wine and even go so far as to embrace the smoke. So as we looked up to a smoky sky this past weekend I must admit that we were a bit worried, but the good news was that we could not smell or taste the smoke. With Mother Nature clearly in charge, all we could do was hope that the wind current would change and sure enough the next morning came bright and clear day.

I salute the brave men and women firefighters who are on the battle line of this challenging wildfire trying to save lives and homes and I am hopeful that they are able to get a grip on this blaze sooner rather than later!!

Here are some untainted wines to enjoy as the summer draws to a close.

This Medlock Ames sauv blanc is just so refreshing for the ‘dog days’ of the summer…light and crisp

An honest Chardonnay that kind of hits a balance between oak and fruit
Our neighbor Tim and Kandy Ward craft this blend from their hillside…a very smooth blend for summer bbq!

Sky Pine Vineyards
2011 Pine Mountain Cloud