Wine Industry Newsletter

Collaboration the key for smoke taint prevention

A vineyard with smoke rising from behind a ridge
Autumn, land burning, harvest. An unholy trinity fraught with potential conflict for both land managers and the wine industry.

Research carried out in 2004 conclusively proved that undesirable smoky flavours in wine, described variously as ‘smoky’, ‘burnt’, ‘bacon’, ‘medicinal’, or ‘ash’, were directly attributable to bush fire smoke. A pro-active approach to managing prescribed burns by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ (DBCA) Parks and Wildlife Service together with wine industry stakeholders has resulted in the creation of processes to mitigate vineyard risks resulting from prescribed burns, which acknowledge risk factors such as timing, wind, temperature, atmospheric conditions and soil moisture.

Key to the success of the process is collaboration and information exchange between the government agencies, stakeholders and the local shires, local fire brigades, and vineyard owners.

President of the Pemberton Wine Association Ash Lewkowsky, said that the level of engagement that DBCA is effecting with the wine industry has been outstanding.

“We are in constant consultation which has been integral to us working around our optimal harvest dates. This process ensures the best outcomes for both our industry and the protection of the community,” he said.

The first step of the process involves Parks and Wildlife Service releasing its annual and three year plans of prescribed burns to both State and regional wine associations. Regions via their associations are then able to comment on the plan, identifying windows of opportunity for burning and potential issues.

The regions in turn communicate with local fire officers to update on ripening progress and anticipated harvest dates, while Parks and Wildlife Service constantly monitors conditions for burning against potential impacts on the community and vineyards.

As vintage progresses, the regions update Parks and Wildlife Service on areas available for burning as grapes are harvested.

Brad Barton, Regional Leader Fire Management – Warren Region, visits each of the regions three to four times a year. “We’ve learned a lot more about the industry and the nuances of grapegrowing, and we understand each other’s businesses a lot better now”, he said. “Through this process, growers understand when and why we need to undertake certain burn activities.”

Executive Officer of the Great Southern Wine Association John Gates agreed. “The feedback to this pro-active approach has been very positive. Our producers are not working in the dark and have appreciated the openness of the Department in sharing the planning process,” he said.

Still an unknown is the effect of low intensity stubble burning on grape flavours, and this is the subject of research being carried out in South Australia by the Australian Wine Research Institute and the University of Adelaide.

DBCA has made a video outlining the consultation process for prescribed burns and it can be viewed here.

Vineyard owners or managers who would like more information on prescribed burns and when they are taking place are encouraged get in touch in the first instance through their regional associations, listed below.