Stubble smoke taints fears for red grapes in Padthaway

Padthaway vines. Image Padthaway Wine Region Facebook
Originally written by Chris Oldfield for Naracoorte Community News

As the stubble burning season fires up, Padthaway’s grapegrowers hope their red grape harvest is not affected by smoke taint.

Each year, traditional grain growers burn their stubbles before working their soil for next year’s crop in a bid to control weeds, pests and fungal spores.

Meanwhile, a cooler grape growing season means a harvest that could clash with stubble burning.

While most white grapes have already been picked, the reds will be harvested in coming weeks.

Some farmers grow both grain and grapes. They know the two industries can and do work together.

One of those is Padthaway Grape Growers president Krysteen McElroy who farms both crops and grapes, but is aware of the risks of smoke taint.

“The red grapes are showing fantastic potential this year because the growing, ripening and harvesting seasons have been cool,” McElroy said.

“We know a lot more now about the effects of smoke on grapes and about how little it actually takes to taint the grapes and hence the wine.

“We know smoke and the taint travels for significant distances and once grapes are affected, they can’t be harvested or used for anything.”

McElroy said the association have had discussions with the Naracoorte Lucindale and Tatiara councils around the need to be aware of the needs of grapegrowers during the next couple of weeks when issuing permits for stubble burning.

The councils will remind people about the dangers of smoke taint to the region’s grape and wine industry.

“The compounds involved in smoke are so strong that the character can’t be blended away, leaving the winery with very few options but to tip out the wine,” McElroy said.

Wineries were now doing things such as conducting a mini ferment in addition to having their grapes tested a few weeks before harvest.

The mini ferments were to detect any smoky, burnt, ashy or medicinal aromas and flavours.

If any of those flavours were found, the grapes were rejected.

McElroy said the Padthaway Grape Growers Association involved around 30 vignerons and was a $35m industry.

“Our focus is to generate awareness and educate the community about smoke taint,” she said.

“We are not asking farmers not to burn their stubble, but we are just asking them to hold off for a couple of weeks until all the red grapes are harvested.”

Smoke taint is a focus of the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) that has issued a paper regarding stubble burning.

“There are no effective ways to remove smoke compounds from grapes or wines,” the paper says.

“Grapes which are affected thus have no commercial value and are not likely to be harvested.

“This has significant financial impact for the grape grower, as no harvest means no income.”

Additionally, there was a reputational risk for a region if any smoke affected grapes were detected.

The AWRI paper says the degree of risk depend on many factors, including hectares burnt, temperature of the burn, wind speeds and direction and smoke density as well as other matters.

“Communication between district councils, cereal farmers and grape growers about the timing of harvest and the timing of proposed stubble burns will be important in avoiding risks of smoke taint from stubble burns,” the institute says.


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