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Jerimiah Oetting, Marketplace

Like most everything in California, the state’s wine industry – with an estimated $43.6 billion retail sales value in 2021 – is facing another hot summer of drought and potential wildfire. But when forests burn near California’s wine country, it’s not just the flames that threaten vineyards; it’s also the smoke. Grapes exposed to wildfire smoke can produce ashy, bitter wine, forcing growers to leave millions of dollars on the vine.

Now, scientists in Santa Cruz are helping the industry confront that dilemma, with a unique approach that can sniff out the smoke in grapes. They say the results will allow winemakers to better predict whether grapes are worth harvesting or better left to rot.

I think that we’re just kind of scratching the surface. As we test and geo-locate those samples, we can get a library of baseline levels for all of these wines

Paul Dorenbach, Senior Analyst, SC Labs, and a co-author of Crews’ study

“It’s a huge problem for the wine industry,” said Prudy Foxx, a viticulturist in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

That was especially true in 2020, when the catastrophic wildfire season led winemakers to…