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Saving Smoked Grapes: Vodka and Climate Change

Saving Smoked Grapes: Vodka and Climate Change

smokey vodka on fire

We at DFC HQ are looking forward to New Year’s Eve – spent in the cozy comfort of home yet again, trying to stay out of the way of the latest COVID wave. If we can’t put a positive spin on that apocalypse, we can certainly raise a midnight glass to another one:  A beverage that turns the fallout of climate change into the flavour.

Napa vintner Nicolas Quille is no stranger to “smoke taint:” a fault in wines pressed from grapes grown too close to wildfires. California has had a rough couple of years in that regard, and after Quille tried, and failed, to save his 2020 vintage by harvesting his merlot and malbec grapes early, he didn’t want to just pour his spoiled wine down the drain. So he partnered with local distillery Hangar 1, and they turned the sooty-flavoured liquid into something eminently more drinkable: vodka.

“‘The texture is very nice. It’s smooth. You get almost like the taste of a barbecue from far away, you know someone’s using coals,’ said Michael Kudra, principal bartender at Quince in San Francisco [… ]

Quille said they took a financial hit with the lost product but concedes having the vodka option could be a way to salvage smoke-tainted grapes during fire seasons to come.

Scientists have said the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires are largely attributable to prolonged drought and increasing bouts of excessive heat from climate change.

‘If things turn for the worse and those fires become more violent and more frequent, it’s definitely an option that needs to be on the table,’ [Quille] said.

This beverage seems a bizarro version of Torched Earth Ale, the repulsive tasting beer of our climate-challenged future. But I can see how vodka, with its intensive distilling process, can tame the nasty flavours of out-of-control wildfires. And I suppose “acceptance” follows naturally after the “denial” and “bargaining” steps of grief. In this miserable future (2023??), we’ll at least have a little something to take the edge off.