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Oregon winemakers hoping for stellar vintage despite wildfire smoke

The blanket of smoke that hung over Oregon's Willamette Valley for days is raising a lot of questions about the quality of the grapes this year.

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. — A lot of the wildfire smoke that inundated Oregon has cleared.

And while many of us are breathing deep sighs of relief, the state's multi-billion dollar wine industry is, in a sense, holding its breath wondering what all that smoke will mean to this vintage.

Some believe it might not be as bad as you think.

Jason Lett with Eyrie Vineyards is one of them. He said this year's grapes have all the hallmarks of a great vintage. However, the blanket of smoke that hung over the valley for days is raising a lot of questions about the quality of the grapes this year.

So last weekend Lett posted a message on his Instagram page addressing the smoke head on.

"So many dynamics tie together to decide whether or not wine is going to have the effect of that or not," Lett said.

While many of the grapes used to make white wines or roses were picked before the smoke, those precious pinot noir grapes hung on the vines right through it.

"If any good has come out of this is that it has slowed things down," explained Lett.

Lett believes the smoke may have actually helped some of the fruit by providing some shade on what would have likely been triple digit heat days.

"So I'm not ready to call this vintage yet and I have a lot of faith in what's going on here," he said.

It's a feeling shared by winemakers at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner.

"We don't foresee any significant impact," said manager Christine Clair.

Even if there is smoke impact, they are ready to deal with it.

"We are prepared with protocols that we've learned from industry research to be proactive but also remedy any smoke impact in the cellar," Clair said.

Still, some wineries are choosing not to harvest some of their grapes, saying because of the smoke, they wouldn't be able to insure the wine's quality. 

It's a move Lett questions.

"To say it's a bad vintage, that makes those of us who do have faith in our vines look like chumps for picking them," said Lett. 

Lett wants to make it clear, the real tragedy is all the property and lives the fires have taken. That's what we need to focus on, he said.

As for the grapes? He's confident they'll pull through. They seem to always do.

"I hope in 10 years we can all sit around and open a bottle of 2020 and celebrate how things have gotten better," he said. "I really hope so."

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