Wildfires blazed in Mendocino County, California from June through August in 2008 and many of the fires were precarioulsy close to the vineyards there. We have detected an uncanny smokiness -- as in ash, not bacon -- in some of the 2008 wines we have tasted from that area. The fires also affected Lake County and Northern Napa and Sonoma counties but we have not, as of yet, had the same experience. Not to say these counties are immune to the smoke, just that we have not encountered any examples to date.
In fact, we hadn't thought all that much about it, but the question came up the other day when someone mentioned they identified a little ashy flavor in a '08 Pinot Noir they tasted from Anderson Valley. They wondered aloud whether this could be a result of the fires and smoke that plagued the vineyards that spring and summer.
It seems that some producers are waving off claims that wines from the area are demonstrating characteristics that seem to have come from the wildfires. How can that be so?
The grapes are ripening during that time of year and many vintners admittedly worried that the smoke would seep in to the skin of the grapes. This would, as pointed out by Peg Mellnik in "The Press Democrat," pose more of a problem for red wines because the skins are left on during fermentation. Also according to her article, many producers in Anderson Valley and elsewhere sold some of their grapes to blend out and reduce the threat of overtly smoky flavors in their finished wines.
It's funny that when mint or lavendar grow nearby a vineyard site we are quickly led to believe that those characteristics come through in the wine but when it is smoke ensconsing the vineyard the effect comes in to question. Hey, we're just saying.
Anyway, a little smokiness in Pinot Noir or Syrah is not necessarily a bad thing, right? More good news is, you just might find some deals out there!