Measuring bushfire's impact on vineyards

La Trobe University Professor Ian Porter, an expert on smoke effects on grapes and wine, is working with grape growers and winemakers in key Australian wine regions to measure the impact of bushfires on this year’s vintage.

Professor Porter leads part of a project to determine smoke level thresholds in vineyards affected by smoke.

His team is working to develop better tools to help with early detection to ensure no smoke taint can get into wines and to give certainty to growers deciding whether to harvest vineyards affected by smoke.

Professor Porter said, smoky compounds naturally occur in grapes and are not damaging at low smoke levels.

"You need a lot of smoke such as that caused by the present bushfires to cause damage," Professor Porter said.

This week Professor Porter told a gathering of winemakers and growers in North East, Victoria, that air quality data already showed significant levels of smoke damage and that some vines may already be too badly affected to harvest this year.

“Smoke doses are extremely high and similar to earlier seasons where large bushfires occurred in 2003 and 2007. All our data suggests it will be difficult to produce wine in some of the regions this year,” Professor Porter said.

However, he said further testing will continue in order to assist industry.

“Rain may stop the smoke, but we won’t know whether the harvest will be useable until further smoke data is analysed and grapes are tested by industry and our own research,” Professor Porter said.

The team is providing continual assistance to other regions across Australia as required.

His team uses smoke detection devices to compare airborne smoky “phenol” compounds with those in smoke-affected grapes and wine to gauge the impact of fires on the final product.

Professor Porter said other researchers in Australia are working on techniques to eliminate the impact of smoke on vintages.

“The fact that we are now able to provide industry with a way of testing for smoke taint earlier, means we are able to save them huge amounts of time and money, and help them plan future vintages with more certainty,” Professor Porter said.

The research has been funded by the Federal Department of Agriculture as part of its Rural Research and Development for Profit program, Wine Australia, Agriculture Victoria, the Australian Wine Research Institute and La Trobe University.

Media contact: Dan Salmon – 0499 949 627 – d.salmon@latrobe.edu.au

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