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Australian winery turning smoke tainted grapes into spirits

Research in South Australia has been exploring how wine grapes tainted by wildfire smoke may be used to create spirits like brandy and gin.

Simon Tolley Wines in Adelaide Hills has joined a research project created to look at how smoke tainted grapes may still be used to make spirits.

It’s part of a larger investigation into the effects of climate change on brandy production in Australia, led by PhD candidate Hugh Holds at the University of Adelaide.

The first spirits ‘are maturing slowly away at the University’s winery’ and will be ready for sampling in early 2022, said Hold.

Simon Tolley Wines, which rebuilt its winery after suffering wildfire damage in December 2019, has donated all of its heavily smoke tainted grapes to the research.

If the first samples work out as planned, the winery could also have spirits to sell next year.

‘Hopefully we can roll out a smoke-flavoured brandy or gin in our cellar door in about 12 months’ time,’ said Simon Tolley, a fifth-generation grape grower and winemaker who runs his namesake winery with his wife, Narelle.

‘The project will hopefully assist other smoke-affected growers in the future, and give them more options with the rejected wine fruit rather than putting it on the ground,’ said Tolley, who lost his entire crop in the 2019 wildfire that damaged several other vineyards and winery properties in Adelaide Hills.

Another producer, ‘Vntlpr’, has also donated grapes to the research project.

Other regions have also seen experimentation with turning smoke tainted wine grapes into spirits.

Archie Rose Distilling Co launched ‘Hunter Valley Shiraz Spirit’ in May 2020, an eau de vie made using smoke tainted grapes recovered from Hunter Valley vineyards.

The distiller worked with Tulloch Wines and First Creek Wines to devise a way to create spirits from grapes no longer fit for wine.

In California, family-owned Hoopes Vineyard in Napa Valley has collaborated with Kentucky-based master distiller Marianne Barnes to create brandy from smoke tainted grapes.

Related articles: 

What is smoke taint in wine? 

Napa Valley 2020 harvest ‘not lost’ despite smoke taint concerns

Adelaide Hills: Regional overview and top-scoring wines

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