Comparing the chemical and sensory consequences of grapevine smoke exposure in grapes and wine from different cultivars and different wine regions in Australia

Aim: This study aimed to benchmark the chemical and sensory consequences of grapevine exposure to smoke, by comparing: (i) the concentration of volatile phenols and volatile phenol glycosides in control and smoke-affected grapes from different cultivars and different wine regions; and (ii) the chemical and sensory profiles of wines made from control and smoke-affected grapes, from different cultivars.  

Methods and Results: Control and smoke-affected grapes and wines were sourced from a combination of: experimental trials (involving the application of smoke to different grapevine cultivars); and commercial vineyards located in Australian wine regions, some of which were exposed to bushfire smoke during the 2019/20 growing season. The concentrations of smoke taint marker compounds were determined in grapes and wine by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry; while wine sensory profiles were determined by descriptive analysis. 

Conclusions: Volatile phenols and volatile phenol glycosides remain useful chemical markers of smoke taint. Volatile phenol concentrations (in free and glycosylated forms) varied by cultivar and wine region, which likely reflects varietal differences in the naturally occurring (‘background’) levels of volatile phenols, and the density and duration of smoke exposure experienced in different regions.  

Significance and Impact of the Study: Research findings provide an initial benchmark of the ‘background’ levels of free and glycosylated volatile phenols that can occur naturally in grapes from different cultivars, as well as the concentrations of smoke taint marker compounds present in smoke-affected grapes and wine. These results can be used by industry to inform decisions around harvesting vs. rejecting smoke-affected grapes, albeit a greater understanding of baseline volatile phenol levels by cultivar and region is needed.

Authors: Kerry Wilkinson* and Renata Ristic 

School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, Waite Research Institute, The University of Adelaide, PMB 1, Glen Osmond, South Australia 5064, Australia 
ARC Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, Waite Research Institute, PMB 1, Glen Osmond, South Australia 5064, Australia

Email: kerry.wilkinson@adelaide.edu.au

Keywords: Cresol, guaiacol, smoke taint, syringol, volatile phenols, volatile phenol glycoconjugates

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