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Researchers Seek USDA Grant to Fund Smoke Exposure Research

by Kerana Todorov
March 03, 2020
Smoke billows above the Napa Valley floor in October 2017.
Researchers seek a multi-million dollar federal grant to tackle the effect of smoke exposure on winegrapes.
Photo by KeranaTodorov for Wine Business Monthly.


Researchers from three different universities are seeking input from of winemakers, growers, scientists and others as part of an effort to prepare a proposal for a multi-year federal grant to fund research on the effect of smoke exposure on winegrapes.

If approved in the latter part of 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant would fund multi-disciplinary research projects most likely on the West Coast, where deadly wildfires have struck repeatedly over the past few years. The size of such a grant ranges from $3 million to $5 million. The researchers plan to apply for the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant by March-April 2021.

About 120 people took part in the first two planning meetings that took place on Feb. 3 in Sacramento and on Feb. 13 in Portland, Ore. to determine what should be investigated to evaluate smoke exposure on wine. That may include research on smoke compounds and their thresholds, smoke taint risk assessment, testing standards and guidelines to follow when wildfires occur. These planning gatherings were funded with a $50,000 USDA grant.

About 40 people attended the last stakeholder Monday in Kennewick, Wash., during the Washington Winegrowers’ 2020 Convention and Trade Show.

Dr. Anita Oberholster, cooperative extension specialist in enology at U.C. Davis, Dr.  Elizabeth Tomasino, associate professor at Oregon State University and Dr. Tom Collins, assistant professor at Washington State University, have led the meetings in an attempt to obtain the multi-year funding. 

Such funding would allow them to put together a multi-state, coordinated effort with researchers from various fields, including agricultural economists.

“There are so many different ways that we’re attacking this issue,” said Collins, referring to research on smoke exposure which may lead to smoke taint in wine. “We need this grant so that we can actually put together a coherent program (instead of) chipping here and chipping there,” Collins said earlier this month in Sacramento.

Oberholster said the questions raised during the stakeholder meetings will be ranked in logical order to identify which should be investigated first with the USDA grant. Investigators anticipate applying for more funding as not all questions will be answered during the life of the grant, even if it is approved.

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