California winemaker suing NY seller for rejecting wine over wildfire ‘smoke taint’

Wildfire isn’t the kind of smoky note most winemakers are going for.

But it’s apparently become an issue for some California vineyards in regions that saw large brushfires, even when the grapes were nowhere near the smoke.

One California vintner is suing a Long Island wine distributor for wrongly accusing it of selling 2017 vino with “smoke taint.”

The distributor rejected 4,841 cases of Noble Tree wine because it believed the California grapes used to make it were exposed to smoke from wildfires, according to a lawsuit.

The Port Washington-based company, SMT Acquisitions, was under contract to accept 2017 varieties of Noble Tree wine from the Sonoma-based Westside Winery, according to the Brooklyn Federal Court claim filed by Westside.

“SMT asserts it is not obligated to take possession of, or pay for, the 2017 varietals on the basis that they are purportedly ‘smoke tainted’ due to certain California wild fires.”

It’s simply not true, said Westside, noting in court papers the grapes used to make those wines “were harvested and in indoor storage tanks before the wild fire referenced by SMT.”

Westside says it’s owed $400,000 for the rejected wine.

The issue of wildfire smoke-tainted wines has been a concern in wine-producing countries for years, especially as climate change has increased the number of wildfires, said John Aguirre of the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

But wineries are typically quick to toss compromised fruit.

“Wineries choose to err on the side of caution and reject problem grapes rather than accept grapes that would compromise the reputation of their brands,” he said.

The Association recently applauded $1.5 million in federal funding to study the issue.

SMT did not return messages.

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