Smoke taint analysis and solutions the talk of the industry at the 2021 NBC

By Samuel Squire

The National Wine Sector Bushfire Conference has taken place with venues in Hahndorf, Wangaratta and Sydney hosting leading industry professionals sharing their experiences, research and recommendations for dealing with smoke taint and fire damage.

The 2019/20 summer bushfires resulted in some of the worst ever fire-related damage to Australian winegrape crops, and yesterday the industry came together to learn more about how producers and researchers have dealt with the aftermath.

Wine Australia CEO Andreas Clark said the engagement between industry members was pleasing.

“We’re really happy with the turn out to yesterday’s National Wine Sector Bushfire Conference and it was pleasing to have engagement with so many people across Australia simultaneously – we’ve already had some great feedback from the day,” Clark said.

“The Conference gave us a good opportunity to continue important conversations around the collective knowledge from our experiences last year and to deliver the findings of the new research in a timely fashion to help our community better prepare for future fires.”

Four comprehensive sessions happened throughout the day. The first, chaired by Professor Paul Grbin of the University of Adelaide, and including the keynote address by AWRI managing director Dr Mark Krstic, also presented a regional overview of the bushfires’ impact on last year’s vintage across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

The second session focused on vineyard preparation, response and recovery, and included detailed stores from producers who had been on the frontlines of the fires. Tim Bartsch, a grower based in the Adelaide Hills, gave a detailed account of how his smoke-affected fruit was ultimately used in commercial wines with some positive returns, even after the initial outlook hadn’t been great.

Dr Richard Hamilton’s in-depth presentation on recovery in the Adelaide Hills gave some timely advice for smoke taint detection and remediation methods available to vineyard owners and operators post-fire.

A tasting of wines from the Orange and Canberra regions, made with higher phenols and smoke-taint compounds than normal, also occurred with an open poll that allowed conference attendees to share their thoughts on the wines’ character and profile.

The third session dealt with smoke taint diagnostics, and featured a comprehensive presentation by Dr Eric Wilkes, from the AWRI, and Greg Howell of Vintessential Laboratories – both labs that conducted hundreds of smoke taint tests over the course of last year – who gave insights on results from smoke-affected wines.

The fourth and final session of the conference gave producers valuable insights into smoke taint mitigation practices and research updates.

Professor Kerry Wilkinson, from The University of Adelaide, provided information about potential methods for growers to protect their crops, should another severe smoke event occur, along with information on other trials of products that could be used, including an ‘activated carbon’ bag that could be installed on grape bunches pre-emptively to significantly reduce smoke exposure.


A more in-depth overview of the 2021 National Bushfire Conference will be featured in the July issue of the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker. To find out more about the magazine, click here.

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