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Peter Michael Winery and The University of Adelaide Partner to Develop Promising Technology to Combat Smoke Taint

Posted on May 25, 2021

May 25, 2021 – Australia – Today at the Australian National Wine Sector Bushfire Conference, Prof. Kerry Wilkinson (University of Adelaide) unveiled results from a new smoke taint protection technology – carbon activated (AC) hoods. In early trials the AC hoods showed promising results, protecting the grapes from 97% of smoke taint. 

Following the 2020 California fire season, Sir Peter Michael was compelled to initiate research on a possible solution that might protect maturing grape clusters from smoke taint. Enlisting the scientific minds of Peter Michael’s winemaker, Robert Fiore, also a geophysicist and oenologist, and Prof. Kerry Wilkinson in Adelaide, the team simulated real-world smoke conditions for the trials both in the field on the vine and in a controlled smoke box.

“After five years of California wildfires, we have accepted that they are now endemic and a global challenge,” reflects Sir Peter Michael. “I had the germ of an idea and with the scientific knowledge of Robert and Kerry, we were able to realize it with astounding results.” 

During trials, the grape clusters were covered with a specially woven activated carbon hood that allowed air ventilation but successfully trapped virtually all smoke particulates. Prof. Wilkinson showed examples and results for some of the completed experiments that proved the effectiveness of this new technology. 

Prof. Wilkinson stated, “We were pleased with the early results and extended those trials that demonstrated the carbon hood to be even more promising.” 

The early field trials involved the application of smoke to Sémillon grapevines and showed that enclosing fruit in the activated carbon hoods prevented exposure to smoke, such that the volatile phenols measured as chemical markers of smoke taint were barely detected in protected grapes - while concentrations up to 21 ug/L were found in smoke-exposed grapes. 

“Winemakers and vineyard managers have been searching for a solution to smoke exposure for several years,” states Robert Fiore. “This new approach could be a proactive means for preventing smoke compounds from ever reaching the grapes. Much additional work is needed to make this a practical solution, but the science supports its effectiveness.” 

Trials were repeated on a larger scale with Mataro grapes, to allow wines to be made and analyzed. There were no significant compositional differences between the wines made with Mataro grapes enclosed in activated carbon fabric, and control wines (i.e. wines made with grapes that were not exposed to smoke). 

The team invites others to collaborate in this research program, including producers and manufacturers, to further develop and verify the technology.

About Peter Michael Winery 

In 1982, after six years of searching for land to serve as a family retreat and home of Peter Michael Winery, Sir Peter Michael and Lady Michael purchased 630 acres of volcanic ridges on the western face of Mount St. Helena in the Knights Valley AVA of Sonoma County. Drawing inspiration from the great wineries of Burgundy and Bordeaux, the family hired like-minded viticulturists and winemakers to help them create terroir-driven, estate sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon blends that would stand the test of time. 

Today, second-generation Paul Michael and his wife Emily, continue the vision adhering to the founding principles of mountain vineyards, classical winemaking, and limited production. All three estates, Knights Valley, Seaview (Sonoma Coast), and Oakville (Napa Valley), rest on steep hillsides ranging in elevation from 500 to over 2,000 feet and total 1,191 acres with only 201 acres under vine. With a commitment to sustainability, the remainder of the land is preserved as wildlife corridors and each estate carries the Fish Friendly Farming and Sustainable California Vineyard & Winery certifications. 

About The University of Adelaide 

The University of Adelaide is a place where world-leading researchers come together in first-class facilities to address some of the world's grand challenges. As a member of the Group of Eight, a coalition of Australia's most research-intensive institutions, the University is a destination of choice for highly talented researchers, students, government, and industry partners.


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