Hopefully, you have discovered by now that we use screw caps instead of corks. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Twist away and enjoy! There is much controversy right now over which is a better closure – corks or screw caps. While there is no definitive scientific answer yet, I thought I would show arguments for both closures to help you understand how we came to our decision.
There were MANY decisions to make when it came to the packaging of our wine. From what kind of glass to buy (foreign? domestic?) to what kind of paper to use for the label (textured? colored?) to how we were going to close the wine.
I have a friend who is a sales person for a reputable cork company so I initially turned to him when researching what kind of cork to use. After a quick yet in-depth education on natural cork products, I was convinced this is the direction we needed to go. I figured this would be the easiest part of the never-ending packaging decision making! Until I spoke with the rest of the team.
My family had a different idea of what we should use, they were all about the screw caps. It didn’t take long for them to convince me to change my mind. I had no objection to wine closed with screw caps, I just assumed we would use cork. Lesson learned, from then on, I never made any assumptions regarding RFW again!
Notice I left out synthetic corks. I am not going to include these in the post, because while they are an option, there was no hesitation in excluding them from the start. Synthetic corks are made of plastic and are hard to remove and hard to put back in the bottle. Enough said.
Hands down, screw caps win the price comparison. You can get a cheap cork for as little as $0.10 each (my guess is that Two-buck Chuck uses these) or as much as $1.40 each for a super premium natural cork. Not to mention the price of the tin capsule that covers the natural cork… Screw caps, on the other hand, are $0.16 each. No need to cover the closure with another material (one less decision to make!) when using a screw cap.
Now would also be a good time to bring up the problem of the presence of TCA in wine. This bacteria can be found, on average, in 5% of all wine closed with a natural cork, resulting in what you may be familiar with as “corked wine”. There is no possibility of a wine being spoiled by this bacteria if it is closed with a screw cap, so we had to take this point into consideration when looking at the price of both options.
This is a touchy subject in the wine industry right now. As most growers and wineries, we strive to be good stewards of the environment and approach all aspects of our operation with sustainability as a high priority. Recently, one of the largest cork suppliers in the world launched a campaign for corks naming them the earth-friendly option. I have had a difficult time finding any significant research on the environmental impact of corks versus screw caps. It makes me wonder if the “earth-friendly option” campaign is in response to the increasing market share screw caps have achieved lately… Just a thought, nothing to back up my theory except a minor in Marketing.
Let’s start with the production process. Corks are harvested from a special type of oak tree found in the Mediterranean. These trees can live for up to 200 years, and it takes seven to nine years to grow the outer bark that is used for corks. These trees do not require much in the way of irrigation, pesticides, or herbicides. Very environmentally friendly so far! Screw caps are made from an aluminum exterior and plastic or tin interior lining. The process of producing screw caps involved the use of large amounts of water and electricity.
Both corks and screw caps are recyclable, although you must compost the corks at home or find a place to drop them off for the ReCork America Project. I also hear that corks are in high demand by fifth grade teachers around the holidays. Screw caps, while not as usable for art supplies as corks, can be tossed into your recycling bin at home. Cork is not approved for recycling in most cities.
One aspect of earth-friendlyness highlighted by the screw cap industry is how much product does not go to waste when using screw caps as a closure. If in fact 5% of wine is affected by TCA, that is a lot of glass, paper, and most importantly wine, that is going to waste!
Studies show that most of the wine purchased in the United States is consumed within 24 hours. Knowing this, long term aging (10+ years) is not what we are most concerned with when deciding on a closure. However, there have been some very interesting experiments done recently regarding the age-ability of wine under different types of closures.
One study that I like to refer to when touting the positive aspects of screw caps was conducted by Old Bridge Cellars in Australia. Basically, they took one wine, the 1999 Leasingham Estate Clare Valley Semillon and used 14 different closure types. They systematically analyzed the wine over a decade using sensory and analytical methods.
This study eliminates the argument that wine does not have the ability to age under a screw cap, as one independent taster, who sampled the wine after 10 years, determined it to be “classic aged Semillon”. The study was originally conceived to determine the best type of cork to use, they had no expectation of the performance of the screw cap!
The most important (to me) aspect of this study is that it proves that wine closed with natural and synthetic corks may not age consistently. Being in the marketing and sales aspect of the industry, consistency is key. There are so many other factors that can affect the outcome of a wine year to year, the last thing we need is a closure that almost guarantees a lack of consistency.
Old Bridge Cellars Study
Until recently, screw caps were perceived as the closure of choice for “cheap wines”. Fortunately, in 1998 Plumpjack Winery in Napa Valley decided to experiment with screw caps and closed half of their expensive reserve wine, a 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, with a screw cap. To this day, they offer wine closed with both options. This progressive move by a high-end winery helped others in the industry take screw caps seriously as a viable closure for all wines, no matter the price point.
The biggest argument for corks in this category is the “romance” that some people associate to their overall experience when opening a bottle of wine. How you enjoy wine is important, but for myself, and according to endless studies on the drinking habits of the Millennial generation, screw caps do not detract from it. Sure, natural cork closures are a more traditional option, but RFW is about the past just as much as it is about the future.
Taking price, environmental impacts, age-ability, and perception into consideration when deciding on a closure was very important. While screw caps may not be the right choice for every winery right now, it works for us. We have had a very positive response so far to our closure of choice. We hope you enjoy it too!
What do you prefer? Wine closed with natural cork or screw caps?