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Jackson Family Wines funds vital research into smoke taint

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, wildfires burn more land in western US states than eastern. It’s why JFW is funding one Washington professor’s research into smoke taint solutions.

In 2020 alone, a study by Downey Brand, LLP noted that California lost US$601 million in unharvested wine grapes due to smoke taint.

One professor in Washington state aims to find a solution to vineyard smoke taint damage, and a new endowment by Jackson Family Wines is helping him to do just that.

Recently, Jackson Family Wines donated US$300,000 to create the Jackson Family Wines Endowed Professorship at Washington State University’s (WSU) Department of Viticulture & Enology (V&E).

The funds support the research of Dr. Tom Collins, an industry leader in wine grape smoke taint research.

“We have worked with the technical team at Jackson Family over the years on various topics, including most recently on aspects of research related to how smoke exposure in vineyards can impact grape and wine quality,” says Collins.

“This endowment is one of the outcomes from that collaboration, and is intended to facilitate future work in this area of research.”

Photo / CAHNRS Communication

Doing the Work

The endowment grew out of a discussion in 2022 between Collins and Jackson Family Wines (JFW) about his work developing techniques in identifying new, smoke-related compounds in grapes and wines.

In a bid to advance this research, Collins requested access to JFW’s specialised instrumentation equipment. This led to further discussions about shared costs for supplies and student travel, culminating in the endowment.

“The endowment will provide sustaining funds to support Dr. Tom Collins’ innovative wine and grape research as it relates to smoke exposure,” says Jean C. Dodson Peterson, Ph.D., department chair and associate professor of Viticulture, Viticulture and Enology at Washington State University.

“It also promotes sustainability in viticulture and enology, and enables our students to more fully engage with cutting edge research,” she continues.

“Having an endowment provides ongoing assistance, which gives flexibility to research, such that when an unexpected avenue of interest arises, or there are urgent needs in the middle of a grant cycle, these funds can be used to address those needs without delay.”

Investing in the Future of Washington

Jackson Family Wines acquired 61 acres of an existing 117-acre site in Walla Walla, Washington last year.

Located in Mill Creek, the new brand created from this estate will feature wines stewarded by winemakers Chris Carpenter and Gianna Ghilarducci.

The research endowment only strengthens JFW’s commitment to Washington state.

“Since acquiring our first vineyard in Washington last year, we’ve sought to strengthen our connections in the region, and find opportunities to support the local Washington wine industry,” said Christopher Jackson, second-generation proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, in a previous interview.

“We’ve long admired Dr. Tom Collins, and his commitment to research that brings more innovation to viticulture and winemaking. We’re proud to create this endowment that brings more resources to studying the impacts of smoke on winemaking. Our hope is that Tom’s continued research will not only benefit the local Washington winemaking community, but the global wine industry as well,” he added.

Over the years, Dr. Collins’ smoke taint research includes collaborations with researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) and University of California Davis (UCD). Clearly, global studies on smoke taint come with a hefty price tag.

“Companies such as Jackson Family, that are taking the lead on sustainable practices, are really helping by putting their money where their mouth is,” says Alisa Jacobson, owner/winemaker of Turning Tide Wines, Unified Symposium co-chair, and research committee chair for the West Coast Smoke Exposure Task Force.

Ultimately, Jacobson considers climate change and sustainability to be cornerstone issues that ‘touch’ every part of the wine industry.

“The industry as a whole needs a lot more information pertaining to assessing smoke exposure risk in the vineyard,” Jacobson concludes. “The researchers at WSU, OSU, and UCD are working diligently on their SCRI (Specialty Crop Research Initiative) grant smoke research, and hope to have some more results out to the industry by the time the Unified trade show comes to Sacramento in January 2024.”

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