If You Twist Shout Out for the Line!

This is just the second vintage that we have put a very few of our wine varietals under screw cap.  I am showing some reticence.  I shouldn’t.  Screw caps are a great closure but they are not necessarily good for all wines nor all wineries.  Now, screw caps USED TO BE reserved for low end “pop” wines.  With some of my older readers (50 plus as the studies show) a strong bias against screw caps exists.  They are remembering the nasty screw cap wines of their youth….or not remembering.  It depends on how much they had!  🙂  Exclusively low-end screw cap wines have not been the case for almost two decades.  In fact, some of the most expensive wines from California and Australia come under screw cap.  So what is the deal?  Traditionally a wine bottle closure is a cork ….well, let’s go back to the beginning.  Roughly 250 years ago and further, wine bottles were closed with oily rags stuffed in the neck or with wood bungs.  The new, “technological advance” two and half centuries ago to which I now refer was the introduction of cork closures.  Cork provided an easy insertion (compress and naturally expand), an excellent seal against oxygen penetration, “no taste” additions to the wine with contact, and easy extraction when you are ready to drink the wine.  Well, sometimes it did add taste (cork taint) but only when the cork was faulty (cannot be seen).  Cork taint was far more acceptable than the then historical alternative (oily rags).  Tolerance of cork taint (sometimes up to 15% spoilage) was the acceptable norm for over 200 years.  The cork taint problem (“TCA” – smell of wet, moldy dog) actually came mostly from the cork cleaning process (the use of chlorine – the most basic and cheap sanitizer on the planet).  What if we removed chlorine from the sterilizing process and perhaps used high pressure, high temperature steam?  With that, the problem of cork taint falls to about 1 in 10,000.  Wow!  Not too fast as the “new” process (autoclave) for cork cleaning is far more expensive and it takes advanced technologically skilled workers to execute.  Not everyone can produce these corks and not everyone wants to pay for them.  We at Vineland employ these “tech-sterilized” corks and suffer very little failure.  So, why did we call for the screw capping line to be pulled to our establishment?  (we rent this bottling line by the day and it is permanently installed in a 5th wheel container trailer).  Our corks are not causing a problem.  Firstly, our very old (yet very serviceable) line does not have a screw capping function so we must rent the mobile bottling line.  Second, it has been the LCBO that strongly suggested that we change over to screw caps for our general list wines.  They have found that consumers want screw caps for the convenience of opening, specifically  on entry level wines (no cork screw required).  Since our change with the specific general list wines, we have noticed an uptake in sales at the LCBO.  So where is one to lay their allegiance?  Both are good closures and have their specific purposes.  OK then, what about synthetic corks?  Those abominations?  Oh, please don’t get me started.  We’ll have to leave this discussion to be picked up on another day! 🙂

Cheers, David

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