Who can forget the terrifying images of the 2018 California wildfires that were officially the deadliest and most destructive on record?
It brought the issues associated with climate change into sharp focus, and while the stories of personal loss were heart-breaking to read about, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is the new normal and that wine producing regions have to prepare for longer and more severe wildfire seasons. In fact, some predict that wildfires will no longer be restricted to seasons but instead rage all year round.
Smoke taint is a scourge of grape growers in those regions prone to wildfires, entire harvests can be ruined, leading to cancelled contracts with producers and the loss of a year’s profits. Smoke taint is caused by free volatile phenols that are produced when wood is burnt. These can be absorbed directly by grapes’ skin and can cause problems with taste in the winemaking process.
Bloomberg reports on a group of Oregon wine growers in the Rogue Valley, who, after their contract to supply a California winemaker with their grapes was cancelled, collaborated with a group of four Oregon wineries - King Estate, Eyrie Vineyards, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Sylvan Ridge Winery, in order to turn the Rogue Valley grapes into a limited edition series called Solidarity wines.
“We’ve made a real effort to learn about smoke taint and how it might be managed, which is interesting because the West Coast is going to have issues with fires” - Ed King, co-founder of the King Estate Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley
The Willamette Valley has a history of wildfires, in 2002 one of the biggest of the century, The Biscuit Fire ravaged the valley. It forced the valleys producers to adapt to using grapes that were supposedly ‘smoke tainted’. Willamette Valley Vinyards 2002 Biscuit Fire Syrah and Merlot turned out to one of their most in-demand vintages and are bottles are highly collectable
“People were amazed; the wines turned out beautifully. The Syrah had deep notes of plum and blackberry and rich concentration. It’s a wine that has lots of life left in it.” - winery director Christine Clair
Solidarity wines is an example of how wine producing communities, working together and with the right skills can turn adversity into opportunity. For sure a larger and larger percentage of grapes will be affected by wildfire smoke in the future and rather than let the fruit whither on the vine, this type of outside-the-box thinking offers a route forward. It certainly deserves to be supported.
2018 Solidarity rosé, chardonnay, and pinot noir are available at Cellar 503, a wine club that sells only Oregon wine.