There May Be a Solution for Removing Smoke Taint in Wildfire-damaged Grapes

A Santa Rosa-based wine filtration company says it has developed a "quick, complete, and permanent" process for salvaging the affected wine.

As if the immediate destruction of wildfires isn't bad enough, for winemakers, these natural disasters can linger in their products for years as "smoke taint"—the unwanted flavors that grapes exposed to smoke can impart into finished wine. Some wineries have found creative ways to utilize smoke-tainted grapes, but needless to say, the best possible solution would be able to just remove smoke taint. The wine filtration company Mavrik North America says they can do just that, thanks to a new "quick, complete, and permanent solution."

At the crux of Mavrik's announcement is what Bob Kreisher, the company's R&D director, describes as people thinking about smoke taint "in the wrong way," explaining that many wineries would like to measure for it, "remove it, and then measure again." Indeed, tests can be used to determine the likelihood of smoke taint based on the threshold of certain compounds; however, Mavrik suggests that the exact cause of the off flavors of smoke taint is still unknown and, at the very least, more complex than simply measuring specific compounds in wine.

Vineyard Fire
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So what makes Mavrik's approach different? The company says they've created a two-step solution. First, "a narrowly targeted removal by highly selective membrane separation" is able to eliminate smoky flavors and aromas without ruining the wine's flavor. But this method leaves a harsh mouthfeel—so step two is the use of "non-traditional fining agents." "These are very effective when used after our membrane treatment," the company writes. "If used before our membrane treatment, they will typically not show dramatic results."

Of course, the million dollar question is whether this technique truly works. Mavrik says an unnamed winemaker described the process as creating "a dramatic improvement," and the company is "currently offering trials on volumes as small as keg to barrel size."

But interestingly enough, in Mavrik's own report, they emphasize, "You are going to have to rely on your palate when it comes to smoke. Lab analyses do not lead directly to a resolution." As a result, by their own admission, the jury would seem to still be out until more wineries have given Mavrik's solution a try.

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