New Spray Coating Promises to Protect Grapes from Wildfire Smoke

A breakthrough in grape protection has been made by researchers at Oregon State University, who are developing a spray coating that can prevent the detrimental effects of wildfire smoke on wine grapes. Wildfire smoke has become an increasing concern for wineries across the globe, as it can lead to off flavors in wines that result from contact with the smoke. This innovative coating, expected to be available in the next few years, could revolutionize the wine industry by providing vineyard managers with a much-needed tool to manage the impact of smoke.

Elizabeth Tomasino, an associate professor of enology at Oregon State, emphasizes the significance of this development. She states, “This coating has the potential to transform the wine industry.” The motivation behind this research stemmed from the devastating impact of the wildfire smoke that engulfed Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia in September 2020, causing extensive damage to wine grape quality and resulting in losses exceeding $3 billion for the wine industry.

The research, led by Yanyun Zhao, a university distinguished professor, and Jooyeoun Jung, a senior researcher assistant professor, focused on targeting three volatile phenols responsible for smoke taint in grapes. The team developed cellulose nanofiber-based coatings that contain chitosan and beta-cyclodextrin, which can be sprayed onto grapes in the vineyard. These coatings have the ability to block guaicol and syringol and capture meta-cresol, the compounds present in wildfire smoke that can cause off-flavors in wine when absorbed by the grapes.

One notable advantage of this coating is that it does not need to be washed off before winemaking, saving valuable time, money, and water for grape growers. The challenge lies in creating a coating that adheres properly to the different chemical shapes of the phenols present in the smoke. The researchers are continuously refining the coating formulations and conducting cost analysis studies to optimize its effectiveness.

Based on two years of coating application studies, it was found that the coatings did not affect the growth and quality of the grapes. Smoke chambers were also placed over vines at Oregon State University’s Woodhall Vineyard to test the smoke-blocking ability of the coatings, and the resulting wine is currently undergoing analysis to assess its quality attributes. Alexander Levin, the director of the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, believes that if this spray coating becomes commercially available, it could be a game-changer for grape growers.

The research team, consisting of Elizabeth Tomasino, Yanyun Zhao, Jooyeoun Jung, Alexander Levin, and additional contributors, received funding from the Oregon Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant for their groundbreaking work.

An FAQ section based on the main topics and information presented in the article:

1. What is the breakthrough in grape protection made by researchers at Oregon State University?
– Researchers at Oregon State University are developing a spray coating that can prevent the detrimental effects of wildfire smoke on wine grapes.

2. Why is wildfire smoke a concern for wineries?
– Wildfire smoke can lead to off flavors in wines that result from contact with the smoke, which is a concern for wineries as it can impact the quality of their wines.

3. How could the spray coating revolutionize the wine industry?
– The spray coating could provide vineyard managers with a tool to manage the impact of smoke on wine grapes, potentially preventing off flavors and ensuring the quality of the wines.

4. What motivated the research on the spray coating?
– The research was motivated by the devastating impact of wildfire smoke in Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia in September 2020, which caused extensive damage to wine grape quality and resulted in significant losses for the wine industry.

5. How does the spray coating work?
– The spray coating contains cellulose nanofibers, chitosan, and beta-cyclodextrin. It targets volatile phenols responsible for smoke taint in grapes, blocking some compounds and capturing others, preventing them from causing off-flavors in wine when absorbed by the grapes.

6. Are there any advantages to using the spray coating?
– One notable advantage is that the coating does not need to be washed off before winemaking, saving time, money, and water for grape growers.

7. What is the challenge in creating the coating?
– The challenge lies in creating a coating that adheres properly to the different chemical shapes of the phenols present in the smoke. The researchers are continuously refining the coating formulations to optimize its effectiveness.

8. Was the growth and quality of the grapes affected by the coatings?
– Based on two years of coating application studies, it was found that the coatings did not affect the growth and quality of the grapes.

9. Who funded the research?
– The research team received funding from the Oregon Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant for their groundbreaking work.

Definitions for key terms or jargon used within the article:

– Wildfire smoke: Smoke produced by wildfires, which can have detrimental effects on wine grapes.
– Off flavors: Undesirable flavors in wine that may result from contact with wildfire smoke.
– Vineyard managers: Individuals responsible for managing and overseeing vineyards, including grape cultivation and harvesting.
– Cellulose nanofibers: Nanomaterials derived from cellulose, a complex carbohydrate found in the cell walls of plants.
– Chitosan: A biopolymer derived from the shells of crustaceans that is known for its antimicrobial and film-forming properties.
– Beta-cyclodextrin: A cyclic oligosaccharide that can form inclusion complexes with certain molecules, such as volatile phenols.
– Volatile phenols: Organic compounds that can contribute to off flavors in wine, particularly when present in wildfire smoke.
– Smoke taint: The undesirable flavors in wine that result from contact with smoke during grape development.
– Cost analysis studies: Studies conducted to analyze the costs associated with implementing the spray coating in vineyards.
– Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center: A research center at Oregon State University focused on agriculture and natural resources.

Suggested related links:
Oregon State University
U.S. Department of Agriculture