In 2020, Oregon experienced one of the most destructive seasons in its history. As fields burned and smoke lingered over vineyards, Pinot Noir, one of the state\u2019s top grapes, took the largest hit with 62% of growers hit by fire and 40% of the Pinot Noir crop dumped or abandoned.\n\n\n\nBritish Columbia has also suffered in recent years\u2014the 2021 vintage saw smoke envelop the Okanagan Valley as residents evacuated and winemakers crossed their fingers the fires wouldn\u2019t spread their way.\n\n\n\nIn situations like these, winemakers had a few choices: Abandon all hope and forfeit that year's crops and subsequent financial gains. Pick the grapes and make the wine as previously intended, but risk making a wine tainted by the season\u2019s smoke. \n\n\n\nOr, roll with it. In the wake of wildfires, a handful of West Coast winemakers chose this option and harvested anyway, pivoting from original plans to turn their smoke-kissed Pinot Noir into white Pinot Noir.\n\n\n\nWhite Pinot Noir is not new. In a wine by any other name, it\u2019s Blanc de Noirs, Pinot d\u2019Alsace, Blanc de Noir Sp\u00e4tburgunder or Pinot Nero Bianco.\n\n\n\nBut while Pinot Noir is famously known as the heartbreak grape for its inability to adapt to change, it\u2019s arguably time to reconsider the moniker. Going back decades, white Pinot Noir has proved a solution for West Coast winemakers under duress. Take 1984\u2014a wet, frigid vintage that had Oregon winemakers using their underripe grapes for a white Pinot Noir. Several California winemakers, including Joseph Phelps, also made white Pinot Noir in the \u201870s when facing shortages of white grapes.\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nIn 2020, dozens of wineries took the same route. \u201cThe white Pinot Noir surge of 2020 was a total pivot,\u201d says Tony Rynders, owner of Tendril Winery in the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area (AVA) of Oregon. \u201cPeople were just trying to figure out ways to find their way through the vintage.\u201d\n\n\n\n\u201cIn 2020, white Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir ros\u00e9s are all we made,\u201d says Mike Bayliss, co-owner of Ghost Hill, a Yamhill-Carlton winery that focuses entirely on estate-grown Pinot Noir. He and wife Drenda had started making white Pinot Noir roughly a decade prior after finding inspiration from a friend who studied Champagne production in France, but never in such volume. \u201cThere was too much smoke to make a red\u2014the skins were just too badly tainted.\u201d \n\n\n\nOne of the many chemicals that smoke imparts is guaiacol. It\u2019s not harmful, but it leaves an ashy, campfire-ish characteristic to the grape and gives wine an astringent texture. There\u2019s no washing it off. But smoke sticks primarily with a grape\u2019s skin, not the flesh. If wine is pressed quickly, vintners can sidestep the smoke taint\u2014in theory.\n\n\n\n\u201cTo make wine that year was scary,\u201d says Drenda Bayliss. \u201cWe had no clue what quality it would bring. We didn\u2019t even pick very much because of the sheer amount of smoke taint. We were too nervous.\u201d\n\n\n\n\u201cWe\u2019re in an area where there were two different fires, about eight miles apart,\u201d says Mike Bayliss. \u201cYou couldn\u2019t see outside some days.\u201d\n\n\n\nBut the resulting white Pinot Noir, \u201cwas one of the best wines we\u2019ve ever made. It sold out. If that ever happens again,\u201d he says, knocking on the wood tabletop, \u201cwe would make so much more.\u201d Today, they command a block of 115 clone dedicated to white Pinot Noir.\n\n\n\nDomaine Nicolas-Jay in Newberg treated white Pinot Noir as an exigency wine. In 2020, they made a white (and ros\u00e9) Pinot Noir instead of risking a smoke-tinged red. The next year, the winery went back to strictly red Pinot Noir.\n\n\n\nOver in British Columbia\u2019s Okanagan Valley, winemaker Kevin Rossion of Plot Wines had been eyeing white Pinot Noir for a while. When 2021 hit, a particularly bad year for fires in the valley, he knew it was time to lean into the style. \u201cI had wanted to try making one for a while, but the smoke pushed me to do it,\u201d he notes. That vintage, he made just two skin-contact white wines and a white Pinot Noir. \u201cWe played things safe.\u201d\n\n\n\nAlthough white Pinot Noir has been a beacon of hope during perilous vintages, it\u2019s far more than a backup plan.\n\n\n\nRynders started making white Pinot Noir in 2004 after running into an Italian winemaker who practiced the process. That same year, he released his take at Domaine Serene. He still makes a white Pinot Noir\u2014The Pretender\u2014at Tendril but he doesn\u2019t make much of it, just a hundred cases or so a year. \u201cBut it is the most popular wine that we make,\u201d says Rynders. \u201cThe tour operators talk this wine up.\u201d\n\n\n\nHe reckons it\u2019s because it\u2019s a rarity. Aged for 16 months in neutral French oak, \u201cit's an incredibly textured, intensely aromatic expression of Pinot Noir. There\u2019s almost this waxy, oily quality to it. It\u2019s rich without being heavy.\u201d\n\n\n\n\u201cWhite Pinot Noir is incredibly versatile, pairing-wise\u201d he notes. \u201cYou can pair from traditional white wine pairings across the spectrum to lighter red wine fare.\u201d\n\n\n\nIt\u2019s also malleable in the making process. Rynders says he's also added white Pinot Noir to Chardonnay aged in stainless steel. \u201cThat small percentage of white Pinot Noir gave the Chardonnay a remarkable textured presence and an exotic aromatic profile.\u201d\n\n\n\nIn 2020, Rynders skipped the 100% white Pinot Noir\u2014the grapes didn\u2019t have the acid he desired\u2014but he encouraged his clients to use white Pinot Noir as a tool. \u201cBlend some into red Pinot Noir as a textural element.\u201d\n\n\n\nThe style is also highly ageable, if handled correctly. \u201cYou need to ensure there\u2019s no perceptible pink color,\u201d says Rynders. \u201cLike most ros\u00e9s, color is unstable\u2013it wants to oxidize and turn brown.\u201d\n\n\n\n\u201cThe trick to white Pinot Noir is to press gently,\u201d says Rossion. \u201cIt\u2019s important to have clean and perfect clusters and to pick when there\u2019s an optimal balance of acid and sugar. You don\u2019t want to extract color or bitterness. It\u2019s a game of timing and tasting.\u201d\n\n\n\nIf a white Pinot Noir is handled lightly, it\u2019s got a long life ahead of it. \u201cWe were surprised at the ageability,\u201d says Mike Bayliss. He recently had a bottle of their 2010 vintage. \u201cIt\u2019s only getting better with time.\u201d\n\n\n\nThere are downsides to white Pinot Noir, however. Since (red) Pinot Noir can command high prices, making white versions is cost prohibitive outside of fire-stricken vintages. Rossion notes continually making a white Pinot Noir isn't attainable. \u201cPinot Noir grapes have a high market price,\u201d he says. \u201cIt\u2019s hard to justify making it into a white unless you are confident people would pay a retail price of $40 plus a bottle.\u201d\n\n\n\nThat said, \u201cI think you will start to see more Pinot Noir Blanc in regions affected by smoke,\u201d says Rossion. Climate change is unpredictable. Rynders cites the hammering of 2020\u2019s wildfires on the west coast, \u201cand 2021 was almost as bad. This vintage,  we got frosted out.\u201d\n\n\n\n\u201cOn top of smoke taint, unpredictable and cooler weather can slow the ripening process to a point where you sometimes can't make a great red Pinot Noir,\u201d says Plot Wines\u2019 Rossion. A shift in perspective, like making white Pinot Noir, is offering promising results. \u201cPlus, it\u2019s tasty.\u201d\n\n\n\nAs winemakers reckon with a changing climate, \u201cwe need to change our approach, instead of the wine,\u201d says Rossion.