One Winery Turned Smoke-Damaged Grapes Into Barbecue Sauce

A creative solution in the wake of wildfires

Wildfire smoke
Smoke lingers of the Willamette River as thousands evacuate their homes on September 11, 2020.
Mason Trinca for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Winemaking is a challenging art even under the best of circumstances. Under the most optimal climate and weather conditions, there’s still no guarantee that a batch of grapes will yield a vintage for the ages — or even a passable vintage. And there are plenty of variables that can further complicate matters, from frost to fungus. What, then, is a winemaker to do when smoke from wildfires ruins their crops? When life gives you lemons, as the saying goes, you make lemonade. And when life gives you smoke-damaged grapes, evidently, you make barbecue sauce.

An article by Sarah Neish at The Drinks Business looked into how multiple Oregon wineries were reckoning with the aftermath of wildfires in the Willamette Valley in 2020. The effect of these fires on the local winemaking industry was severe; a tour of the region’s vineyards refers to “a lost vintage” as a result of grapes being contaminated. As Neish pointed out, one affected vineyard — Patricia Green Cellars — opted to use grapes that were damaged by smoke in a brandy.

As for Durant Vineyards, they opted to use their damaged grapes for something else entirely. “[C]ulinary development is something we truly excel at,” the vineyard’s CEO, Paul Durant, told The Drinks Business. That led to them collaborating with Paradigm Foodworks on a barbecue sauce. That makes sense; if you have something with smoke literally baked into its flavor, why not work in a space where that’s a feature rather than a bug?

“We didn’t want it to be overly spicy, so that it can be paired with a broader variety of foods like grilled salmon and veggies as well as ribs or pulled pork sliders,” Durant added.

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According to Neish’s reporting, Durant Vineyards hasn’t ruled out using some of the damaged grapes for a brandy as well. For now, though, their foray into barbecue sauce is on pace to cover the costs of producing wine. Just as some winemakers turned the effects of the “noble rot” into a specialized variety of wine, so too are Oregon’s wineries finding ways to make the best of a bad situation. And in this case, barbecue sauce fans might have a new vintage to seek out.


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