Hi Clark:

I have a wine with smoke taint from a grass fire. What remedial treatments are available?  What is the efficacy, have you seen successful results on Pinot Noir?



Hi Dave,

Pinot Noir generally has little tannin structure, which in other wines can absorb and integrate smoke taint, so it’s particularly difficult to treat without losing the essential perfumes that make Pinot attractive, because the membranes required are much looser than those that can be used for removal of smaller molecules like ethanol and acetic acid and tend to strip mouthfeel and floral aromatics.

While the phenomenon is far from well understood, here’s the scuttlebutt.

Our reverse osmosis sublicensee David Wollan of WineNet Australia (now MemStar) first developed an offshoot of my patent to treat smoke taint.  We now know that it is a large complex of compounds and every fire is different, but guaiacol and 4-methyl guaiacol are used as an index.

In my invention, a tight RO membrane (around 80 daltons porosity) passes permeate containing pretty much just water, ethanol and acetic acid.  Ethanol can be removed by distillation and the water recombined, or VA can be removed by a resin and the alcohol/water solution recombined.

These membranes are too tight to pass smoke taint, so he employed looser ones in the 100 – 150 dalton range, running the permeate through activated charcoal and returning to the wine.  The looser the membrane, the more efficient the removal, but also the more you lose good stuff, particularly in a fragile wine like Pinot Noir.

It seems that in some treated wines, the taint recurs. It is believed that this happens if the taint elements are glucosylated, which it seems only happens early on, during the pre-veraison or immediately post-veraison cellular division time.   So if your grass fire happened in the fall, you might be okay.  If not, you might check with Peter Salamone at Laffort, who has been looking at glucosylase enzymes to hydrolyze the bound form.  I believe ETS can analyze for what you have.

Your toughest choice is who to trust your wine to.  There are four companies: WineSecrets, Winetech, VA Filtration, and Mavrik.  I have had good and bad experiences with all of them.

Direct fining with carbon can also be tried: http://wine.wsu.edu/research-extension/2012/10/smoketaintfining/

Additional reading: http://wine.wsu.edu/research-extension/2012/09/smoke-taint/