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Erin Malsbury, Good Times

Researchers are trying to develop a method to detect smoke-tainted grapes before it’s too late

The 2020 CZU fire left many viticulturists and winemakers in the Santa Cruz Mountains unsure about whether to harvest and process their grapes. If bathed in smoke, the fruit can absorb compounds that give finished wines a taste that ranges from mildly smoky to ashtray.

But these compounds can be challenging to detect in unfermented grapes. They are tasteless and odorless until saliva breaks them down during tasting.

“That’s when the distasteful properties rear their ugly head,” says UCSC chemist and Pelican Ranch Winery owner Phil Crews.

But the probability is good that every year there might be a region impacted in California, and what we need is more labs like SC Labs so that people can get fast, reliable testing.

Anita Oberholster, Viticulture and Enology Extension Professor, UC Davis

A few labs around the country test for the compounds, but “they’re not providing the right kind of data,” says Crews.

Most labs in the United States test wine grapes for…