Wildfire smoke may have impact on Oregon's multi-billion wine industry

Wildfire smoke causes concern for winemakers

HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- Burning now for a week and half, the Eagle Creek Fire is triggering new concerns among winegrowers in the Hood River Valley.

How will all the thick smoke impact Oregon's multi-billion dollar wine industry?

In his 17 years of wine-making in the Hood River Valley, Steve Bickford has never had to deal with smoke like he's been dealing with since the fire started.

"It's been smoky most every day," he said.

The nearby wildfire is not only creating haze in the air, it's also leaving behind a dusting of ash on the vines.

Bickford, owner of Mt. Hood Winery, said he and winemakers in the area can't really do anything right now to help protect the grapes.

Even watering them down could do more harm than good.

"You don't want to get water on them, water decreases the sugar in the grapes for fermentation,"  he said.

Bickford said all he can do right now is monitor the grapes.

Once the wine-making process starts, then he'll be able to taste if there is any "smoke taint."

"On the red wines you can actually add more oak flavor to the wine and overcome some of the smoke," he explained.

But he pointed out, a slight smoky flavor can be a good thing for a wine.

"I've had smoky vintages before and they're usually good," he said.

The smoke has actually helped some fruit in the valley by providing shade and a bit of cooling on hot days.

For example, it helped pears and even wine grapes escape sunburn.

Still, Hood River Valley growers hope all the smoke moves out soon along with the fire for the sake of the grapes and business.

"We're in the tourist business and I-84 is closed so our business is a quarter or less than normal," said Bickford. "It's had a big impact on sales."

© 2017 KGW-TV


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