Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Today’s forecast for Western Pennsylvania was for sunshine and

Smoke from West Coast wildfires hazes Western Pennsylvania skies.

mild temperatures. The prospect of an extended period of sunshine and mild weather after a summer that set record high temps and a moderate drought was a welcome prospect. When I was outside doing some work around the house I suddenly noticed that while the temperature was in the ’70s the sky was not blue even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Later, a meteorologist on the local news gave me the explanation for the gray overcast conditions that had overspread the region. The reason was smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast. He said the smoke had risen and was swept eastward to the point that it was passing over the area at 30,000 feet. At that altitude, it didn’t affect our air quality but did filter out some sunlight leading to lower temperatures at the surface.

The smoke from the fires proved to be a curiosity for me but for the wine industry on the West Coast, it is presenting the possibility of being a disaster. The vineyards and wineries not directly impacted by the flames are subject to having their unharvested grapes damaged by “Smoke Taint”. Smoke taint is when grapes are exposed to smoke in the vineyard. Smoke in the vineyard doesn’t necessarily mean that the grapes will be damaged by contact with it. The grapes aren’t harmed by smokey soot settling on them but are injured because the smoke can be absorbed through their skin and goes directly into the grape’s sugars. It then gives the glycosides a smokey aroma, think what your clothes and hair smell like after you stood too close to a campfire. With that is in mind, growers aren’t finding much smoke damage from the wildfires, in fact, many are hopeful that any harm will be manageable. With the testing labs experiencing substantial backlogs of grapes for testing a definitive answer to the extent of the problem remains unknown. We will have to wait for the final judgment on the wine quality from the 2020 vintage in the affected regions.  

3 thoughts on “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

  1. There are even those that are taking the position that smoke “taint” is the same as terroir, which is an interesting argument considering we consumers like our barrels charred. See: Fume Blanc.


    1. I have heard that line of thought also. I have also heard other techniques from the light crushing of the grapes, manipulating the chemistry of the juice, and even to just ignore it, especially with white grapes. Whatever the final outcome of this year’s harvest is it will no doubt be one that will never be forgotten.


  2. Thank you for the meteorologist explanation of our cooler weather (way cooler that usual at the very same dates — I usually take pictures or my little weather station a couple of times a week and when looking through the past years pictures, I was shocked how cool it is for this mid of September compared to the past. And as you say, sky is blue then suddenly grey but without cloud nor rain coming up and I was puzzled. I didn’t make the connection with the fires, I thought we were too far away in the East Coast (I am in central Jersey). I have also heard fire smokes would be noticed in Europe ! (certainly in the same way that we expedience it).


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