Screwcap advocates will be gnashing their teeth after the latest OIV resolution gave natural cork a boost.
The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) has passed a resolution recognising the role of natural cork closures in reducing greenhouse gases.
The cork sector has been banging the green drum for some time. In 2007, the WWF (the wildlife guys not the wrestlers) called on the wine industry to back cork to save the 2.7 million hectares of cork oak forests located in the Mediterranean basin. It said the survival of these cork forest rested largely upon the market for cork stoppers, which accounts for 30% of the volume harvested but 70% of the total cork market value.
It championed cork’s cause highlighting 100,000 people rely on cork oak forests for their survival, as do 13,000 plant species and the entire European population of common cranes and many other birds and animals. Cork bashers were less than impressed by what they saw as a desperate attempt to win us over with green wash.
Now, the OIV has recognised the positive impact of cork stoppers in the calculation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It said, “Cork closures represent a specificity of the wine sector and its use has an important impact in the sustainable conservation of forest. Because of this important role, carbon balance of corks may be taken into account when applying the EP (Enterprise Protocol).
“When accounting the GHG emissions related to natural cork closures, the cork production system should be considered from a holistic approach. The final figures of the GHG emissions due to the cork production should consider the managed forest it comes from and its carbon sink effect.”
Cork is a natural product and yes, trees are good for the ecosystem but we must not be blinded by environmental matters – performance of a closure must take first place. While the incidence of TCA has been falling in since the implementation of the International Code of Cork Stopper Manufacturers (ICCSM), there is still the carbon cost of tainted bottles – produced, bottled and shipped across the world only to be poured down the sink by a disappointed customer. It is estimated 5% of wines bottled under natural cork suffer from TCA.
Let’s not forget that other closures aren’t without their problems: The 2010 International Wine Challenge found 5.6% of entries were faulty: oxidation accounted for 28% of these problems, sulphides 26.7%, while cork taint was down at 20%, and brettanomyces a horse manure-like splash behind with 12.8%.
While cork may have gained the environmental moral high ground this time, the debate will continue to run and run…
Apologies to those of you who find closures one of the most tedious subjects on the planet. I’m a geek and am proud to admit it. Secondly, not many wine journos want to write about it cos it is too techy so that doesn’t leave much competition when it comes to getting commissions! I also love the fact that there’s always controversy. The different closure companies love to have a go at each other too, making it a bit of a giggle.
The latest research closure reseach has revealed the rate of oxygen transmission (OTR) through a closure can affect the aromas a wine exhibits – and we’re not talking cork taint here, guys.
Studies from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, The Australian Wine Research Institute, INRA, Geisenheim, and UC Davis suggest that increased exposure to oxygen for some red varieties enhances their red berry characteristics, particularly Grenache, Shiraz and Carmenere.
By selecting closures with the right OTR, it appears to be possible to perform winemaking in the bottle and create wine styles suited to consumer tastes. In Chile, wines sealed with a lower OTR closure such as a screwcap, exhibited more caramel, violet and dried fruit characters while those with a higher OTR closure eg synthetic or natural cork, promoted berry fruits and tobacco.
The AWRI found that Shiraz’s jam, berry and chocolate aromas can be enhanced with very small amounts of oxygen during maturation.
In California, UC Davis report that Chardonnay aged on lees in stainless stell is very responsive to a closure’s OTR: a combination of lees ageing plus lower OTR closure reduced the production of oxidative spoilage compounds thus this information could see producers alter techniques in the winery depending on the closure.
We’re becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the effects of oxygen on the maturation of wine. It’s now clear that a high oxygen transmission rate will lead to premature oxidation while the anaerobic conditions of a tin-liner screwcap is conducive to reduction. However, this latest research is taking things a step further: it seems there will soon be a closure for every varietal and style.
Bordeaux producer Chateau Bauduc looks set to dump corks in favour of screwcaps for its white and rose wines.
After consulting more than 1000 of its customers in an online survey, 65% of respondents voted in favour of screwcaps for white wines and pinks.
For Bordeaux reds, screwcaps were not the flavour of the day with 77% voting for cork or saying they didn’t mind; just 23% were pro screwcap for reds. While it seems a little hypocritical not to be consistent with your closures across your range, the survey feedback found consumers still enjoyed pulling the cork and believed it was more suitable for wines destined for ageing.
10,000 cases of Bauduc are due to be bottled this month destined for outlets including Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein restaurants. If it decides to do what its consumers say they want it to do, it looks like it’s hello to aluminium for Bauduc. The corks have been granted a reprieve by the red drinkers and manage to hang on for a while longer.
(It’s worth remembering that Bauduc has a strong presence in the UK where screwcaps have a high level of acceptance. If the US and Asian markets were surveyed, the results would likely be very different…)
Cork or screwcap? Synthetic or crown cap? While many producers decide to make the switch based on how it will affect the wine in the bottle, one Bordeaux producer is asking their customers what they want.
Strange as it may seem to some traditional producers, wine is ultimately about the consumer and Gavin Quinney at Chateau Bauduc seems to have cottoned on to that. Involve your customers in a major decision and it can only serve to make them more loyal to the brand.
I received an email from Gavin asking me to vote on corks vs screwcaps for their whites, reds and roses. On Baudoc’s blog,
they’ve put the main arguments up for and against both closure types so those who are not au fait with the geeky closures debate can make an informed decision.
I placed my vote, saying screwcaps for whites and rose and, corks for reds if they’re going to be laid down for a while. I admit it’s a little bit hypocritical to put your whites and pinks under one closure and then put your reds under another. It could look like a lack of faith in screwcaps. However, Bordeaux is such a traditional winemaking region, a red under screwcap is still poo-poohed.
It’s important for Bauduc to alter their bottling preparation if they are going to switch from corks to screwcaps to avoid problems of rotten egg/smelly drain syndrome a.k.a reduction. Plus consumers in different markets should be considered. Screwcaps do have a high level of acceptance in the UK but head to the US or Japan and it’s another story. One size does not fit all.
Voting takes place until 24 January and there’s no complicated proportional representation voting system, it’s simply first past the post. Very British.
I’ll keep you updated on the big decision when it’s announced.
One of Soaveâ€™s best-known producers, Pieropan, is following in the footsteps of Venetian neighbour Allegrini, bottling its Classico level wine under screwcap and forsaking its â€˜Classicoâ€™ status.
Under Italian law both Valpolicella producer Allegrini and Soave’s Pieropan were forbidden from bottling their Classico wines under screwcap.
However, the Pieropan family have decided to drop Classico so they can move to stelvin with the 2008 vintage.
â€œThe UK, the US and Australia will take their entire allocation of 2008 under screwcap,â€ said Andrea Pieropan. â€œWeâ€™ve taken this step to improve the quality of the wine drunk by the final consumer. Our wine is unoaked, and its charm lies in its perfume and elegance, so we need a closure that captures these characters in the bottle.â€
Liberty Wines imports both producersâ€™ wines and managing director David Gleave MW has been a vocal proponent of bottling Italian wines under screwcap for some time. I’m sure his close relationship with these two Veneto producers and his views on dragging Italian wine law into the 21st century will have played a part in their decision.
He said: â€œIn our opinion, Italyâ€™s tardiness in adapting this new technology is having an adverse effect on the competitiveness of their wines in the U.K. market. Over the past 30 years the image of Italian wine has been transformed, largely due to the willingness of many producers to embrace new technology and techniques in response to market trends. Yet these same producers, who see the benefits of adopting screwcaps for their wines, are now being held back by the law.â€
While these two renowned producers are likely to suffer from the loss of their Classico status, lesser-known Italian producers are unlikely to be abandon their Classico status readily. Classico and cork still mean quality in Italy. Consumers in the UK, Australia and New Zealand now readily accept screwcaps but other markets, including the US, still see screwcaps as fit only for lower quality wines. While the switch by these top producers and others including Laroche in Chablis will improve its image, it still has a long way to go.
I met up with Simon Waller of Supremecorq for a quick coffee to discuss the latest happenings in the synthetics closure world. The UK trade isnâ€™t too keen on them but in the US they enjoy greater consumer acceptance than screwcaps.
The permeability of synthetics has been the biggest concern for the wine industry since the Australian Wine and Research Institute published its biggest-ever closures study in 2001, showing synthetics allowed much higher oxygen ingress compared with screwcaps and natural cork. Since then, things have improved but Waller feels the synthetics are still tarnished by the 2001 study. â€˜Because of the poor results from the 2001 trial, people made their mind up about synthetics,â€™ he admitted over an iced latte.
He was keen to show me studies from Geisenheim and Bordeaux-based Sarco. The results show natural cork (the type of natural cork specified) and Supremecorqâ€™s X2 brand have similar permeabilities (this is done by comparing free sulphur dioxide levels in wine. The faster they drop, the higher the permeability of the closure and the faster a wine will age – and oxidize).
Things must have improved since 2001 and they are clearly doing something right. Fetzer switched its Valley Oaks range to the X2 last December and, Waller reveals a major US company (and itâ€™s not Blossom Hill) is set to announce its conversion from natural cork to the X2.
â€˜We are still looking at reducing the permeability of the closure. All we can is produce good products and back it up with results,â€™ he added.
Rival synthetic producer Nomacorc is currently concentrating its efforts on understanding oxygen transmission rates (OTR) with a view to bringing out closures tailor-made for particularly wine types. Waller is not convinced by this direction. â€˜The OTR angle is useful and valid but most wineries donâ€™t have a clue about what OTR they want or have. I just donâ€™t think itâ€™s practical.â€™
The company sell around 500 million closures each year; Nomacorc sells close to two billion. There are around 17.5 billion closures sold each year.
Winemakers, take note: Itâ€™s not just your choice of closure that contributes to a wineâ€™s development. If your bottling isnâ€™t up to scratch, your wines will develop faster.
Researchers at Geisenheim Research Centre in Germany found that if bottling processes are not managed properly, it causes irreversible damage to a wine and its post-bottling development.
Dr. StÃ©phane Vidal, global director of enology for Nomacorc, which took part in the study, said: â€œUltimately, we found that if bottling conditions are well-managed, then oxygen transfer rates (OTRs) through the closure influences wine evolution in a more pronounced mannerâ€.
Geisenheim research also showed the headspace also represents a significant amount of oxygen that contributes to wine evolution.
â€œOur results show that headspace oxygen, which has largely been ignored by the industry, is a very critical factor impacting wine development and more specifically, a wineâ€™s oxidation resistance influencing shelf-life performance,â€ said Dr. Rainer Jung at Geisenheim.