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Brief Published: 22 Sep 2021

Winemakers Use AI to Experiment with Smoke-Tainted Grapes

Tastry is helping winemakers formulate blends that incorporate smoke tainted grapes

American winemakers in regions affected by wildfires are using tech to salvage their smoke-tainted grapes. Californian company Tastry has become an industry leader with its artificial intelligence (AI) tool that suggests varietal blends that mask smoky aromas. It’s one of the many responses that underline how climate change is reinventing the wine industry.

Vines don’t need to be directly damaged by fire to produce smoky grapes; those that face prolonged exposure to smoke can suffer from smoke-taint. While this previously rendered grapes unusable, Tastry conducts a chemical analysis of a grape to reveal what flavour compounds it possesses. Using this information, Tastry’s AI gives winemakers tips on blending varietals to mask undesirable notes (in this case, smoke) and foreground desirable ones.

Over 100 winemakers have now employed Tastry’s AI to salvage harvests impacted by wildfires, with initial research showing that Tastry’s suggestions are 90% successful at masking smoke taint. As climate change continues to impact wine production, the inventive blending that Tastry inspires could become a new normal for the industry.

We could also see regions shift winemaking styles. In Oregon, wineries affected by 2020 wildfires produced a record amount of rosé, which requires less grape skin contact, thereby reducing the presence of smoky notes. Regional producer Day Wines advertised its 2020 rosé as a product of wildfires to provoke reflection among consumers. “I want the average consumer […] to see (or taste) a tangible result of climate change,” owner Brianne Day told US platform VinePair.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the alcohol industry get inventive with smoke-tainted grapes. As discussed on The Brief, in 2020, Australian whisky producer Archie Rose worked with wildfire-affected wineries to release a quick-aged whisky from upcycled smoke-tainted grapes. 

For more on climate change and wine, see Wine 2021: Sector Outlook. For more on sustainability in the alcohol industry, see Top Alcohol Trends: 2022.