Technology will help protect grapes from wildfire smoke (UBCO photo)

UBCO researchers create technology to help protect grapes from wildfire smoke

Spray could potentially be applied on farms across the Okanagan

  • Feb. 28, 2020 12:00 p.m.

University of British Columbia Okanagan researchers recently discovered a strategy to protect grapes from the detrimental effects of wildfire smoke.

With climate change, this has become a problem for grape-growers globally because of increased temperatures.

According to a recent climate change report for the Okanagan, summers in the Okanagan are expected to regularly surpass 43 degrees Celsius in the summer by the end of the century which will escalate the risk of wildfires.

Forest fires have been devastating in recent years in B.C. and winemakers are under a lot of pressure to solve the problem.

UBCO researchers have found that applying a spray made up of phospholipids decreased the chances of the grapes absorbing the smoky flavour.

Morning Start: How many grapes go into a bottle of wine?

“This strategy has shown potential in its ability to protect crops,” said Wesley Zandberg, an assistant professor in chemistry on campus.

According to Zandberg, when wine grapes absorb compounds from smoke, the grapes react by coating the compounds in sugar using their enzymes. This sugar coating masks the smoky odour and taste of volatile phenols until it’s released again by yeast during the fermentation process.

“Many grape growers don’t have the means to pay to test their crops, so since smoke taint can’t be reliably detected until grapes are fermented, producers have to wait weeks to know whether their plants are suitable or not,” said Zandberg. “Meanwhile, costs and risks mount as their crops sit on the vine.”

According to their research, smoke-tainted grapes can have a more detrimental effect on winemakers that depend on their own grapes since they don’t have the option to buy grapes from the United States — their wines would no longer be considered local.

Although the results look promising, there is still a long way to go until UBCO researchers resolve the issue affecting grape-growers around the world.

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