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Since the launch of its first wines from 1991, Blue Mountain Vineyards and Cellars has been one of the Okanagan Valley’s quality pioneers. Thirty years of continuous releases of wines made exclusively from grapes grown on the Mavety family’s estate overlooking Vaseux Lake built a reputation for sophisticated red, white and sparkling wines.

To protect that legacy, Blue Mountain has just informed wine club members that there won’t be wine from 2021. Smoke from the Thomas Creek wildfire in Okanagan Falls contaminated the grapes and spoiled the wines produced. Efforts were made to mitigate the effects of smoke damage, but the results didn’t meet Blue Mountain’s high standards.

“Obviously, we’re very disappointed, and it was a tough decision, but we’re not willing to compromise the reputation we’ve worked hard to establish over the past 30 years,” said Christie Mavety, owner and director of sales and marketing. “We’re focusing on the fact that while the grapes had smoke taint, the vines were unaffected – so the future is bright.”

The Thomas Creek wildfire was discovered July 11 and burned through late August, scorching more than 10,000 hectares of land northeast of Okanagan Falls. The impact of smoke taint won’t be universal across Okanagan Falls or farther into the Okanagan region because the elevation of the vineyards, the proximity to the fires, and number of days in contact with smoke are all contributing factors.

Blue Mountain only uses grapes grown on the family estate, which was established in 1971 as Ian Mavety completed his agriculture degree. Their long-time ownership helps bear the financial hit the winery faces from not releasing the 2021 vintage.

Wines described as being tainted by smoke often show burnt, ashy or medicinal notes. The lingering taste can be like inhaling a cigar and these smoky flavours tend to get worse over time.

The smoke affects the grapes on the vine, but not the vine itself. There is no carry-over effect and the Mavety family is confidently working toward the 2022 vintage.

Remedies that wineries can use include adding fining agents like activated carbon or using reverse osmosis to reduce smoke-derived volatile phenols. Sometimes winemakers look to amplify more pleasant flavours to overpower the acrid smoky compounds.

Wildfires have become an increasing issue for wineries in many parts of the world, notably Australia, California, and Chile. As the problem persists, research and development continue in the hopes of better understanding their effects on the vineyards and possible ways to correct the issue.

Blue Mountain recently released its Gamay noir from the 2020 and will offer its chardonnay in May and pinot noirs in September. The holiday season will see its annual sparkling wine release in November. (The Mavety family will announce plans for operating its tasting room later in the season.)

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