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Wildfire smoke can be beneficial for some Okanagan growers

The B.C. wildfire smoke has been beneficial for valley orchards, especially the apples now ripening

Growers aren’t expecting the smoke that has filled local skies in recent weeks to have much effect on their crops.

Gavin Miller, with the Upper Bench Winery, said he isn’t expecting the smoke, even the thick smoke last weekend, to cause smoke taint for the grapes still on the vines, at least not in Naramata.

Related: Smoky skies trap B.C. man inside for days

“It will only be grapes that are very close to the fires,” said Miller.

Some Summerland wineries might have a problem, he said, if they were too close to the fires.

“In the Naramata bench here, we are not anywhere near close enough to get smoke taint.”

Grapes can absorb flavours from surrounding plant life, giving each wine unique tastes, with hints of peaches, perhaps, or other nearby orchards. Smoke taint, however, isn’t a pleasant addition. It gives wines an acrid taste — Miller likens it to an ashtray.

“It really isn’t good,” said Miller, explaining there are some ways to process the grapes to reduce the taint, but they are expensive and not completely effective.

The main concern, he said, isn’t so much the smoke itself, but the less intense sun.

“Everything is going to slow down because the plant isn’t photosynthesizing as efficiently as it would under non-smoky conditions,” said Miller.

Another factor is humidity trapped under the smoke, which can lead to various fungus-type problems.

“My hope would be it disappears very quickly, and then we will be back on track. It is slowing things down,” said Miller. “I’m looking forward to it clearing up so we can get on with ripening these grapes and getting them off to harvest.”

Pindar Dhaliwal, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, said that in some ways, the smoke has been beneficial for valley orchards, especially the apples now ripening.

“It did protect the apples from any sunburn. The less intense sunlight didn’t hurt in that sense,” said Dhaliwal. “We had about 10 to 11 days of smoky weather, that kept the heat down from the predicted 40 C weather, so that helped out in that sense.”

Likewise, he said the less intense sunlight hasn’t had much of an effect on the fruit, except to slow down ripening.

The lack of cooler weather at night, as the blanket of smoke keeps the hot weather in, does have an effect on apples.

“The apples need cooler weather at night to trigger that redness,” said Dhaliwal, explaining they would like to see temperatures dipping down into the 10 to 15 C range overnight.

“I’ve never seen this much smoke in the valley before,” said Rob Van Westen, of Van Westen Vineyards and orchards. He also doesn’t expect the smoke to have an effect, other than on the speed of the growth.

“We were so far ahead with the season, I don’t mind if it slows the season down a little. I don’t want to pick grapes at the end of August,” said Van Westen. “It gives us a bit more time to catch up in the vineyard after cherry season. I’m not complaining too much, except it’s a little hard to breathe and a little hard on the eyes.”

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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