CORVALLIS, Ore. (KOIN) — When lingering smoke surrounds grapes, they can take in that undesired flavor. For winemakers, especially in Western states, that’s a concern because each year there is a threat of wildfires.

But how can that be prevented? That’s what Elizabeth Tomasino is working to find out.

Elizabeth Tomasino is an Oregon State University associate professor of enology -- the study of wines, July 2022 (KOIN)
Elizabeth Tomasino is an Oregon State University associate professor of enology — the study of wines, July 2022 (KOIN)

Tomasino, who teaches enology (the study of wine) at Oregon State University, is the lead researcher using a $7.65 million grant program to find solutions, including a plan to develop a protective coating for grapes.

“We’re calling them some barrier sprays,” Tomasino told KOIN 6 News. “There’s a lot of sprays that go on fruits at different times of the year. A lot of times for pesticide or fungicides and things. We’re actually trying to see if there’s a type of barrier sprayer. Actually here at OSU, we’re looking at a type of film coating that could stop (the smoke). It has the right structure so the grapes can still grow and be healthy. But if there’s smoke on it, it stops the compounds from getting into the grapes.”

The goal is to have that barrier be safe for people — and edible, too.

“They are edible coatings so you could eat them if you wanted to,” she said. “We don’t think you need to. There is a thought they might be washed off prior. But it’s actually the first year. It’s looking like it’s blocking some of the smoke compounds, so we’ll have to do a couple more years.”

Even if some grapes take in the smoke, Tomasino and her colleagues are looking at how to solve those issues in the wine-making process as well.

An OSU researcher setting up an experiment on smoke's effect on wine grapes, June 2022 (OSU)
An OSU researcher setting up an experiment on smoke’s effect on wine grapes, June 2022 (OSU)

“Of course, there’s different levels of smoke so maybe just decreases the amount of smoke going in,” she said. “We’re still evaluating some of those aspects. We’ve got some other procedures that should work really well at removing those compounds in the wine later on.”

Though she can’t reveal just yet what is in the grape barrier they’re creating, it is one of several things they’re studying when it comes to smoke impacts on grapes and wine. That includes connecting data on things like the environment and different chemicals to help predict smoke risk to a grape or wine’s quality.

OSU is collaborating on the 4-year grant with Washington State University and the University of California-Davis.