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By Oregon Family Farm Association

As California and Oregon wildfires spewed billows of gray smoke and ash into the air, grape growers likely worried that once again they’d find no home for their tainted crop. But they didn’t count on Laurent Montalieu of NW Wine Co.

He told a Portland Business Journal reporter his winery wouldn’t leave growers with smoke-tainted grapes out to hang, swallowing even greater losses in a year rife with them.

Instead, NW Wine’s owner/chief executive officer gathered together in the fall with his four winemakers and general manager to brainstorm and research ways to diminish the smoke taint from 2,000 tons of harvested grapes when creating 2020 wines. Grapes without smoke-taint posed no problem. But to clean the others, options included adding gas bubbles to allow solids to float to the top rather than sink to the bottom, treating some wines with milk as a deodorizing technique, and pressing juice off tainted grapes early and then adding back discarded skins from undamaged grapes to enhance flavor, texture, and color. NW Wine does custom grape-crushing and creates private label wines for individuals and brands sold exclusively by retailers like Total Wine & More and BevMo.

Montalieu doesn’t know whether his gamble—and allegiance to growers—will pay off or prove costly, but he decided it was worth the risk.