Just checking in with everyone to let you know that our families and our teams are safe both regarding COVID-19 and the fires in Oregon. We are extremely grateful to have been spared from fires and smoke damage. Our hearts go out to so many in the west coast wine communities that are still battling.
Our team is not unfamiliar with battling fires and emergencies across Oregon. Ken has been serving as the board treasurer for the new Carlton Fire District for 15 years. Mark Gould, our lead vineyard manager, has been serving as a Carlton volunteer fire fighter for years. In fact, Aaron, our Winery Ambassador Ivory’s husband, is still in Southern Oregon near the California border battling the Slater fire. Our thoughts are with the firefighters and first responders who continue to serve and protect.
The recent fires have spurred industry concern over smoke taint. With rumors swirling in the Willamette Valley, literally like smoke, it is very important to get the facts out. Smoke taint occurs in grapes when a vineyard is in near proximity to a fire or directly downwind from an active fire. The volatiles that create issues are ephemeral, over a fairly short period of time they break down. Which is why we are not concerned about “old smoke”.
It is a common occurrence in Oregon in the fall for there to be an east wind. Which is the opposite of the onshore flow that we normally experience throughout the year. When there are fires in the dry high desert of eastern Oregon, those east winds can bring smoke to the Willamette Valley. We have experienced this numerous times before. In a number of years, we have had smoke cover in the Valley for as long as 10 days. In none of these occasions have we had a wine that had an issue with smoke taint. We credit the lack of affectation to the fact that this is “old smoke” from quite a distance away.
As of today, we have tasted all of the fruit from every site that we farm or source from in the valley, 13 in total. We have yet to see affectation to this point of any kind. It is true that we have had a couple of regional fires, one near Hagg Lake in Washington County and one on the north side of the Chehalem Mountains. These fires were contained very quickly. A vineyard neighboring these fires would have a realistic cause for concern. Vineyards that are miles away should not be concerned.
Over the last week, emotions seem to be driving decisions more than science regarding smoke taint with some of our industry members. They are reacting in fear instead of with critical judgement. Perhaps with the combination of the pandemic and the smoke, it is causing knee-jerk reactions. Scientific testing of smoke taint in a laboratory looks for free guaiacols (smoke markers). There are no laboratory tests that have been done that show we have an issue regionally.
Critics agree that 2017 produced a lush and remarkable vintage from the Willamette Valley. In that year, we experienced 10 straight days of smoke from the eastern and northern fires, much longer than we have experienced this year.
Do not be faint of heart, we are going to make great wine this year.
Photos of Ken Wright & Seth Miller Sampling at Hirschy Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA