Research from the Horticulture Innovation Fund

Innovative solutions to managing smoke risk in wine

Dr Mark Krstic, from AWRI, talks about the Horticulture Innovation Funded project - Innovative solutions to manage smoke risk in the Victorian wine industry. 2020
Video Transcript:

So there's two parts of the project. The first part was we had a large national smoke tainted project with the Victorian Department and also La Trobe and us. And of course, when we started to initiate that particular project, we were looking for a lot of smoke tainted wine to actually do some of the remediation treatments with, but interestingly, we just couldn't find any, you know, smoke affected wines out there.

So, we got heavily involved in, I guess, trying to, you know, track down some smoke tainted wine. So, the, one of the primary objectives of that first project was to actually artificially smoke a bunch of different grapes on vine and produce some smoke tainted wines that we could then put into looking at you know, some different treatments that we wanted to trial In terms of remediation, so carbon finding, enzyme treatment, and all those sorts of things.

The second one was to sort of, I guess, do a bit of a more in-depth study on some of the more promising compounds that we'd actually trialled under a model system, out in a more real-world situation. So interestingly, you know, a lot of the different barrier compounds we tried, so we looked at all the different sort of available horticultural products, a number of which were registered for I guess, use in the wine grape industry and others were registered for use in the broader Hort industries. And we looked at, you know, the application of those two grapes in a model system. What it showed quite clearly was that most of those actually increased the uptake of Smoke taint, especially the oil-based compounds that we have. And so, that was a great finding to really understand that some of those particular compounds, including the wetting agents actually can really significantly influence the uptake of smoke taint compounds from the atmosphere.

So, what we did under the HIF project was really, you know, take one of those more promising compounds, which was chitosan. So, chitosan, you know, it's used, it's registered in the industry and apply that as a barrier spray. And so, what we found by doing the trials work there, we showed consistently and it lined up, with some of the, I guess, the smaller scale work that we've done as part of that larger collaborative project that, you know, we saw about a 30 percent reduction in smoke taint uptake by that, you know, the application of that particular chitosan product.

It was really valuable for the larger research project to be able to have access to some Chardonnay, some Pinot and some Shiraz that we could actually run through and evaluate a whole bunch of other remediation options. So really did a lot of work around carbon in particular. We found out some really cool things about the application of carbon fining to wines in the juice stage. So perhaps more applicable to white wine production. It was really effective at removing some of those glycosides and, you know, looking at you know, other things that, with some of the testing with the enzyme treatments as well. So those base wines that we smoked were really important for coming up with some of those recommendations.

And like I said the testing of the barrier compound stuff in the field just gave us, again, like we had a very model lab set up, but actually to be able to apply that in the HIF project in the field gave us some more confidence about the outcome of that particular treatment. So that's been positive.

Now, again, 30 percent reduction is probably not where we're looking at. We want to really see it, you know, much higher than that. So, is it a commercial treatment at the moment? No, but again, it's now opened up the door to say, well, what are the other similar type products that we could really trial here around a barrier spray in the future?

So yeah, we saw that project, you know, that a nice little, short term project that really developed, you know, delivered a lot of value to the sector anyway.

In a changing climate many of Victoria’s key wine-producing regions are likely to experience a higher frequency and severity of bushfires and planned burn activities, as highlighted by the impact of the recent 2019/2020 bushfires. This increases the risk of producing grapes, especially in traditionally premium wine regions such as the King Valley and the Alpine Valleys. Producers have a significant need for tools that can help them protect grapes or ameliorate smoke-affected wines to enable them to produce economically viable grapes and wine and support regional economies.

The key components of the project were to:

  1. produce smoke-affected grapes and wines in a controlled manner using the Department of Jobs Precincts and Regions (DJPR) controlled smoking chambers
  2. trial some promising novel in-vineyard barrier treatments for potential reduction in the uptake of smoke compounds, which had previously only been evaluated in a laboratory-based setting
  3. produce smoke-affected wines and have the wines evaluated by an Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) expert sensory panel
  4. investigate blending smoke-affected wine with non-smoke-affected wine as a practical option for the remediation of smoke taint.


The smoking trials successfully resulted in the generation of smoke-affected wines, a result which was confirmed by chemical analysis and sensory evaluation. Application of chitosan to grapes prior to smoke exposure was found to reduce the uptake of smoke molecules into the grapes. However, in this trial the wine produced from the chitosan-treated Shiraz grapes was still considered to be smoke-affected, but to a lesser extent. These wines extend the AWRI’s collection of smoke-affected wines and provide an additional resource for future remediation studies, as well as being suitable training material for viticulturists and winemakers who attend future extension events on smoke taint.

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Smoking tents for wine grape smoke impacts, part of an Australian wine Research Institute project