Smoke-taint detection to be rolled out

A world first smoke detecting system will be rolled out this year to report the exposure of wine grapes.

Rutherglen and other wine growing areas of north east Victoria will be better protected against smoke from bushfire damage with the launch of a smoke taint detection system.

The world first smoke sensor stations (called WISDs – Wine Industry Smoke Detectors) are being made locally in Melbourne and will be rolled out before the end of the year.

The new system will record, analyse and report the exposure of wine grapes to individual smoke events and accumulated seasonal smoke exposure. While the sensor system will not solve the issue of smoke damaging grapes, it can alert the grower if damage has occurred or if the crop can still be used to make wine

An electronic dashboard will then transmit information back to grape growers, allowing them to make timely decisions around grape testing, vineyard management and winemaking strategies to manage smoke effects.

The project is a collaborative initiative of the Alpine Valleys, Beechworth, Glenrowan, King Valley and Rutherglen wine regions, which collectively form the North-East Wine Zone with 100 sensors to be installed across the five wine under a bushfire recovery project funded by the federal and Victorian governments and Wine Australia.

The project builds on previous and current work by La Trobe University, funded by Wine Australia, which showed that smoke measurements taken in close proximity and within an exposed vineyard can provide an early indication of the risk of smoke damage to grapes and wine.

Chief investigator Professor Ian Porter from La Trobe University said growers will be able to access the information via a phone app.

“The traffic light risk predictions will operate continuously and occur in real time,” he said.

Professor Porter said the risk categories determined by the sensor measurements would depend on the accumulated level of fresh smoke and a number of other key factors that influence the potential for smoke taint, including grape variety, distance from the burn, etc.

During the 2020 bushfires, smoke damage to fruit across all five North-East Victorian wine regions resulted in thousands of tonnes of grapes being lost or downgraded in quality, and an estimated $140 million lost to grape and wine businesses in the region.

“We are confident that the future will be different with this system in place,” Professor Porter said.

The sensor network is expected to be installed by the end of June, in time for the 2022–23 bushfire risk season and will also monitor controlled burns planned for the region during autumn. Data is expected to flow into the app by the 2022–23 season.