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Published: 27 Jul 2022

A climate change adaptation project for the Tasmanian wine sector will be investigated by Dr Sam Sawyer, University of Tasmania Lecturer and Research Fellow in Food Science at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture’s (TIA) Food Safety and Innovation Centre.

The project will investigate producing sparkling wine from smoke-affected wine grapes as a mitigation strategy. The outputs will provide winemakers with the knowledge to help them develop risk management strategies against the impacts of climate change.

“Smoke-affected fruit leads to negative sensory outcomes which manifests during wine making and ageing. This means significant financial outlay has already been invested with little chance for return, as smoke-affected wines will be destroyed and unable to be sold,” Dr Sawyer said.

“Smoke-taint compounds are sugar-bound in fruit and the sugar portion is cleaved off during fermentation and ageing which leads to smoke taint that is easily detected by consumers.”

Smoke-affected fruit is a significant cost to the wine grape sector. This could also include years of sunk investment into ageing of fine wines. It is a risk that deters investors and future expansion.

“Current options for remediation have focused on removing smoke-taint compounds using activated carbon but these methods have also stripped out important flavour and aroma compounds. Thus, alternative approaches for adaptation to the ever-increasing risk and reality of smoke taint from bushfires without adversely affecting wine flavour and aroma is considered critical for the Tasmanian wine industry where the value-proposition is premium quality.

“The primary focus of this project is on climate-responsive agriculture to reduce financial and reputational risks,” Dr Sawyer said.

“It has been designed to help the Tasmanian wine sector adapt and prepare for the increasing risk of bushfire events leading to smoke taint.

“Currently there are too few options for mitigation, so risks are too high, while a rapid response is required, given the likelihood of future bushfire events.”

Major bushfire events have occurred three times over the last 10 years. With the 2013 Dunalley fire; the 2016 event in North-West Tasmania; and 2019 in the Huon Valley, each causing concerns for nearby vineyards.

In 2021, Tasmania produced approximately 360,000 dozen bottles of premium sparkling wine, valued at more than $112M (Wine Tasmania). Tasmania produces more sparkling wine than any other variety (style) grown across the island and is the country’s undisputed leader in premium sparkling wine production.

Dr Sawyer said she felt confident the sector will be quick to adopt new methods as current practice results in almost complete loss of revenue.

The outcomes of this project would have wide-ranging impacts for all Australian wine regions. However, while sparkling wine is not a national priority it is most relevant to Tasmania’s wine producers as 37% of the State’s wine grapes are made into sparkling wine.

“Tasmania is the best place to conduct this research as Tasmanian wine agribusinesses produce the highest quality sparkling wine in Australia,” Dr Sawyer said.

“These businesses are best placed to adopt and demonstrate the knowledge which would be gained from this project. There is also the potential for international impact as more regions globally become impacted by smoke taint from bushfires because of climate change.

Wine Tasmania has identified smoke mitigation as a high priority R&D and proposes that this be investigated in relation to sparkling wine production.

Wine Tasmania CEO Sheralee Davies highlighted the importance of this research.

“Vineyards are particularly susceptible to damage from smoke, a major risk in Tasmania’s heavily forested landscape and with a changing climate,” she said.

“This research will help to investigate opportunities to minimise the impacts of smoke through sparkling wine production.

“We’re pleased to again partner with the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture on this priority research project and thank the Tasmanian Government for its support.”

Wine Tasmania will join TIA as research partner in this project which also received funding through the Tasmanian Government’s Agricultural Innovation Fund.

TIA is a joint venture between the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government.

This article was published in Tasmanian Country newspaper on 22 July 2022.