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Where there's smoke, there's taint (maybe)

Posted By Aaron Mandel, AWS Director of Education , Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Taint (maybe)


With the recent fires in Northern California, there has been a lot of concern about smoke taint in wines and what the wineries can do about the problem. So, I thought a brief discussion of smoke taint might be in order.


First, the problem of smoke taint in 2017 wines is being overblown. Many of the grapes in the Napa and Sonoma vineyards had already been picked. Even those vineyard that still had grapes waiting to be picked will not necessarily have problems with smoke taint. Smoke composition, concentration, duration of exposure and variety all play a part in smoke taint.


How does taint get into the grape?


So how does some taint enter the grape? Most of the smoke taint enters the berries through the cuticles. Basically, through the waxy layer on the skin of the grape. While the volatiles that give the taint may also enter the vine through the leaves, studies show that the movement of the smoke taint through the vine itself is very slow. The closer to harvest the grapes are to ripening, the greater the risk of smoke taint. Because the smoke taint enters through the cuticle, washing the grapes before crush does little good.


Why is it hard to detect early?


The actual compounds in smoke taint are glycosides. This means that the volatile aromatics- those you can smell- are connected to sugar molecules. Since they are bound to sugars, the volatile aromas are stuck in the juice they are not wafting about the air waiting for you to pick up their smell.  But the sugar bond with the volatiles can be broken. This may take place during fermentation, malolactic or during maturation. When the sugar bond is broke, the aromatics are freed.  When the wine is drunk, further breakage in the bonds may occur, increasing the sensation of smoke taint. This is the reason that smoke taint can be so difficult to assess. You pick the grapes, do the crush and everything smells just fine- you escaped. Then you ferment the grapes and things start getting funky.


Wineries are currently sending out grapes for testing to determine whether their grapes will suffer smoke taint. This is often done by performing small batch fermentations with grape clusters taken from various parts of a vineyard and then performing an analysis to check on the presence of the volatile compounds that cause smoke taint.


What if the grapes have smoke taint?


So, what can the wineries do if they have smoke tainted fruit or believe there is a risk of taint?
One thing is to avoid the breaking of the skins as long as possible. The skins have many volatiles in them so limited contact might help. Hand harvesting the grapes can minimize breaking of skins as long as possible and, of course, shorter maceration can help. Whole bunch pressing and pressing in fractions also can assist.


Of course, these methods are best used with white wines where skin contact may not be required. But what about red wines?  If the grapes have smoke taint, there is not a lot that can be done. Some wineries use reverse osmosis to remove smoke taint, but this method is said to only be a temporary fix and the smoke taint returns over time. Flash détente can also be used, since it removes volatile aromas and may remove some smoke taint. But Flash Détente is not 100% effective. It may remove the taint below the detection threshold of approximately 5-6 ppm if the level of smoke taint is slightly over that amount but it is not going to take a 50-ppm smoke taint level and lower it to 3. Even then, it is difficult to say what aromatic precursors in the wine may react with the smoke taint volatiles making the taint detectable at lower levels.


In the end, there is little that can be done with badly tainted grapes. Some “smoky” wines have been successfully marketed with smoke tainted grapes in the past for barbeques but the market for such wines would seem to be limited. Heavily charred oak barrels can also be used to mask the aromas, but the masking can only go so far.


At this early stage, it is impossible to say if there will be any real problem with smoke taint from the Northern California fires. I expect that a few vineyards will have smoke taint, but that the overall impact from taint will be relatively small. Fortunately, smoke taint is not something which carries over from year to year, so 2018 so not be effected from this year’s fires.


The larger concern is the effect on those working in the region. While most wineries escaped damage from the fires, whole neighborhoods were burned down. Affordable housing in Napa and Sonoma was already in short supply. The fires took lives, homes and property. The American Wine Society is raising money to help those affected by the fires. Please consider donating to the cause. In addition, please consider visiting the region. Many of the businesses in Northern California depend upon tourists. The fires cut tourism dramatically. Visiting for a few days will help those in the region get back on their feet.

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Tags:  American Wine Society  smoke taint  Wine  wine tasting 

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A look back at the 49th Annual AWS Conference

Posted By Neal Hulkower , Sunday, July 30, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, July 19, 2017


The American Wine Society (AWS) is the largest consumer based wine education organization in North America.  Dr. Konstantin Frank, a pioneering vinifera producer in New York’s Finger Lakes region, led its formation in late 1967.  It now boasts 165 chapters in 36 states and the District of Columbia including one based in Salem, Oregon.  AWS membership is approaching 6,000 and includes the entire spectrum from novice tasters to wine educators to competition judges to grape growers to amateur and commercial winemakers, supporting the characterization of “compleatness.”  While many chapters host tastings throughout the year, the main event is the annual National Conference.  From 3 to 5 November 2016, about 430 members gathered at the Hilton in Costa Mesa, CA, to learn, taste, and mingle.


As a first time attendee to a conference, I sat in on an orientation session.  Three panels of three first timers were invited to play “Who Wants to be an Oenologist?”  Multiple choice questions focused on the early history of the society, factoids about the California wine industry, and conference specific procedures.  I learned that Dr. Frank threatened to quit AWS because of its emphasis on hybrid grapes.


The Welcome Reception highlighted wines from Temecula, the nearest wine growing region to the meeting, as well as from Santa Barbara Winery. Buffets provisioned tasters sufficiently to serve as dinner.  Afterward, we adjourned to the hospitality suite to sample wines from North Carolina, Tennessee, and New York.


At registration, we were asked to rank our top three choices for sessions in each of seven periods, three one day and four the next.  I was assigned to all of my first choices.  Sharron McCarthy, Vice President of Wine Education for Castello Banfi, oversaw “An Extraordinary Tuscan Experience.”  The eight Banfi wines we tasted ranged from a refreshing 2015 Vermentino to a classy but still young Brunello di Montalcino Reserva.



As a volunteer, I was assigned to be room captain for the session “Virginia Wine Today” and had the pleasure of introducing the presenter, Richard Leahy.  Leahy is the author of the most authoritative exposition on wines of the Old Dominion, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, now in its second edition. In 2012, he was my counterpart on the East Coast during our bicoastal simultaneous tasting of Virginia and Southern Oregon viogniers and cabernet francs.  The results appeared in the December 2012 issue of Oregon Wine Press.   Leahy tasted us through two whites and two reds to show how far Virginia has come.  While all were well made and enjoyable, my “oh yes” choice was the 2013 Barboursville Octagon, a beautifully textured Bordeaux blend.  “Want some,” I noted.


In “Nose to Nose:  Cognac vs. Armagnac,” Portland, Oregon based Hoke Harden (pictured  below), “the spirits and wine professor,” expounded on the differences between the two brandies.  We were presented with four examples of each.   A complex, bright Jean Fillioux Cep d’Or 1er Cru Grande Champagne, a “grower cognac,” earned a “yum yes.”  The supremely smooth and refined Jerome Delord Bas Armagnac 1981, bottled in 2011, earned an “oh yes” and nearly brought on tears of overwhelming admiration.  I did get some.


 On Friday evening, we assembled for the Showcase of Wine to sample products from several countries including Spain, Mexico, France, and the US.  Heavy appetizers served as dinner.  Table hopping facilitated mingling.


As an old fan of German Rieslings, I was particularly eager to attend “The New Classification of German Wines – the VDP Classification” led by Annette Schiller with comments from her husband, Christian.  The DC-based couple lead wine tours in Germany and France.  Since 1984, the Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter e.V. (VDP) has been developing a quality-based classification based on the Burgundy model to correct the mess caused by the 1971 law that diluted the prestige of many of the famous vineyards.  Two of the six lovely wines poured were produced by Dr. Ernst Loosen who, in addition to owning a facility in the Mosel region, collaborates in Oregon with Jay Somers of J. Christopher and in Washington with Chateau Ste. Michelle. 


“The State of Red Wines in the American Rhone Nation” was discussed and illustrated by six California producers. Randall Grahm poured his 2009 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant which displayed an amusing aroma and flavors showing nascent wisdom.  This wine is typically fermented with 50 to 60% whole clusters that are dried for a few days to ensure the stems lignify.  A drinkable, untypical 2012 Tercero Mourvedre showed very nicely.


Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery, known for its zinfandel, guided “Exploring the ‘90s in Magnums.” He shared the 1994, 1995, and 1997 bottlings from Dickerson Vineyard, planted to 100% zinfandel in 1920, and the Old Hill vineyard, planted around 1885 to a mix of at least 27 varieties with about 68% zinfandel.  The wines made from Old Hill, especially the 1995, showed considerable youthfulness.


The final session, “Colorado’s High Elevation Wines, The Taste from the Top,” gave Doug Caskey, executive director at Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, the chance to pour outside the grape.  We were served a fragrant hard cider from a can and a sweet, pretty mead along with one hybrid and three vinifera examples.


A sparkling breakfast the first day and two lunches featured wine, as well.  The noontime meal on Saturday showcased noteworthy wines from Empordá, a region in Catalonia, Spain.  The 2015 Vinyes dels Aspres, Blanc dels Aspres, 60% Grenache Blanc, 40% Grenache Gris, earned a “yes.”  A novel Mas Llunes, Garnatxa Solera extended my experience with this versatile grape to the realm of dessert.  The Grand Banquet at which Peter Mondavi, Jr. accepted the Award of Merit for his late father, Peter Sr., concluded the conference on Saturday evening. 


The egalitarian nature of AWS and the welcoming spirit of its long time members are two of this “most compleat” society’s greatest assets.   Where else can an oenophile, budding or already blossomed, taste wines with experts from across the globe?  Where else can amateur and commercial winemakers share pointers?    For me, though, the seven sessions I attended were the best reason to participate in the National Conference.  The range and quality of the beverages and the information shared by the presenters kept this long time taster enticed, engaged, and even educated.  Sound good? From 2 to 4 November 2017, the society celebrates its 50th anniversary at its National Convention at Kalahari in Pocono Manor, Pennsylvania. For more information, visit http://www.americanwinesociety.org/.


Neal Hulkower is a mathematician and an oenophile living in McMinnville, Oregon.  His wine writing has appeared in a wide range of academic and popular publications including the Journal of Wine Research, the Journal of Wine Economics, Oregon Wine Press, Practical Winery & Vineyard, Wine Press Northwest, and The World of Fine Wine.  He can occasionally be found pouring quintessential Pinot noir at the top of the Dundee Hills.

Tags:  American Wine Society  Armagnac  Cognac  Hoke Harden  Riesling  Tuscan wines  Virginia wines  Wine  Wine Tasting  Zinfandel 

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Wine Gems in the Gem State

Posted By Ellen Landis , Monday, June 26, 2017
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2017

 The next time you pop an Idaho potato in your shopping basket, consideradding an Idaho wine to go with it. Alright, you may not see one on your store shelves yet, but there are more than fifty wineries now in Idaho across more than 1,200 acres ofvines. If you're lucky enough to find one, you may discover a beautifully crafted wine that's worth a spot on your table.


 Idaho may beconsidered a newer wine region to some, but wine history buffs will be aware that the first grapes were planted in Idaho in the 1860s.  After prohibition, the first winery to open in Idaho was Ste. Chapelle in 1976, and the states portfolio of wineries has blossomed, expanding considerably since then. As an invitee to the Southern Idaho Media Tour put on by the Idaho Wine Commission, I tasted beautifully crafted wines from the two southern Idaho AVAs, Snake River Valley and Eagle Foothills.



The Snake River Valley AVA (Idahos first) was approved in 2007.   Atop the ancient Lake Idaho bed and residue of volcanic activity, and surrounded by mountains, it boasts diverse soils and elevations reaching 3,000 feet above sea level.  With 1,800 planted acres (across southern Idaho and into Oregon), this AVA features the largest acreage of vines in the state of Idaho. 


The Eagle Foothills AVA (the first sub AVA of the Snake River Valley) was established in 2015.  This AVA often sees more rainfall than the greater Snake River Valley AVA.  Well drained soils of sand, silt and clay, and elevations from 2,490 feet to 3,400 feet, are well suited to wine grape growing.  There are about 70 vineyard acres currently planted in this region. 

The latest area to gain status in Idaho is the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA.  Securing its designation in 2016, this AVA covers 479 square miles across the northwestern part of Idaho and eastern Washington.  There are now 80 acres of vineyards in this AVA.  It became Idahos third AVA (and the fourteenth AVA for Washington State). The area is home to steep canyons and plateaus.  The elevation (<1,960 feet) is lower compared to the other two AVAs, and the soil is primarily decomposing grasses with nutrient rich silt.  I look forward to exploring this region during a future adventure.


 There are more than 25 wineries within 35 miles of downtown Boise.  For further information about these producers and additional wineries in Idaho, visit the Idaho Wine Commission website at www.idahowines.org.





 Along with planning your own winery tour in Idaho, there are other delightful sights to take in and activities to experience around Boise, the states largest city and capital. The historic and recently restored Idaho State Capitol building located in the heart of town is an exquisite domed building created with four types of marble inside and crowned with a towering copper eagle. If youve always wanted to ring the Liberty Bell, something no longer allowed in Philadelphia, youre welcome to ring its replica installed at the front of the Idaho State Capitol building.


 The entire surrounding downtown Boise area has recently been revitalized, and it is hopping with energy. Day and night, youll find a variety of activities from which to choose (www.downtownboise.org). Highlights include cultural events (such as the Historic Downtown Boise Food and Cultural Tour), and sporting events (Albertsons Stadium is home to the Boise State University Football, and Track & Field programs, and at the CenturyLink Arena you can enjoy Steelheads hockey team games, and other events).  There are numerous galleries to investigate (such as the Art Source Gallery, Boise Creative Center, and Freak Alley Gallery), as well as several museums (for example, the Basque Museum, Boise Art Museum, and Idaho Black History Museum), and concerts (check out the downtown Summer Concert Series). Another popular activity is Idahos annual premier food and wine event, Savor Idaho, which takes place this year on June 11th (www.savoridaho.org). 




  Where to stay?  There are several hotel choices in downtown Boise.  I thoroughly enjoyed staying at Hotel 43; offering good service from knowledgeable staff, clean and comfortable rooms, and a central location.  Other hotels nearby include The Modern Hotel & Bar, Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown, Red Lion Boise Downtowner, Grove Hotel, Residence Inn by Marriott Downtown, and Holiday Inn Express Downtown.  For further information about Boises history and culture, places to dine and stay, indoor and outdoor activities and events, go to the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau website, www.boise.org




 Opportunities to explore great sips and bites are endless.  Seek out A New Vintage Wine Shop (located in the nearby Meridian Crossroads Center), owned by Ilene Dudunake, her husband Harry, and their son Taylor (www.anewvino.com).  Here youll find a terrific selection of wines, beers and gift ideas, and a friendly wine bar.  Pop into lively breweries, wineries, cideries, pubs, cafes, and impressive downtown restaurants including Emilios, Juniper, Fork, and Capitol Cellars, just to name a few. I was quite impressed with the respect paid to the local farmers, ranchers, grapegrowers, winemakers, and brewmasters. Caterers (including Zee Christopher, Wild Root and Grit) and the aforementioned restaurants, among others, are serving high quality cuisine with a focus on fresh locally grown foods and locally crafted wine, cider and beer.


  Farm-to-table dining at its best!  I applaud businesses who recognize, and pay tribute to, the hardworking, dedicated Idahoans who are producing remarkable products to share with locals and visitors alike.


 If you havent been to Idaho recently, or ever, now you have new reasons to head on over and uncover a few gems of your own in this, the Gem State!


A version of this story appeared in the Summer, 2017, edition of the American Wine Society Journal. 


About the Author

Ellen Landis, CS, CSW, is a published wine writer, certified sommelier, wine educator and professional wine judge. She spent four years as a sommelier at the Ritz Carlton and 16 years as Wine Director/Sommelier at the award winning boutique hotel she and her husband built and 

operated in Half Moon Bay, CA.  They recently sold the hotel to devote more time to the world of wine.  Ellen is a moderator for highly acclaimed wine events, judges numerous regional, national and international wine competitions each year, and creates and executes wine seminars for individuals and corporations.  She has traveled extensively to wine regions around the globe. 

Contact Ellen at ellen@ellenonwine.com  

Tags:  Idaho  tourism  travel  Wine 

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