“…within a decade, 75 percent or more of these wines will be sold with metal caps.”
This fantastic article was published in the New York Times a couple years ago and it was a solidifying factor in making the decision to move forward with the initial TorkScrew idea. We knew the idea was the first of its kind, we knew our product could simplify life for a lot of people and when we read this, we knew that over the next few years the need for Torkscrew was going to be greater than ever! Not only that, Torkscrew provides a solution to any issues surrounding Stelvin screw caps and closures while making a unique wine gift for wine lovers!
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Two years ago, the announcement that a well-known winery, or a little-known winery for that matter, was switching to screw caps for its bottles was news. Winemakers were divided on the subject. ”Right on,” said the younger vintners. ”Waste of time,” said older and presumably wiser types. Or ”Money down the drain.” Or, more often, ”The consumer will never accept it.”
No longer. Acceptance of screw-on tops for wine bottles — by both winemakers and consumers — has been astonishing. From Burgundy to Beaujolais, from Spain to South Africa, winemakers are switching from corks. No one seems to have an accurate count of how many wineries are using aluminum tops, but people in the industry agree that the number is in the hundreds.
Corked wine — wine that has been spoiled because of a bad cork — is a serious problem in the wine business. It affects even the fine old chateaus. Many years ago, I spent a weekend at Château Lafite-Rothschild, tasting very old wines from its cellar. Later, the staff acknowledged that it had had to open many more of the priceless bottles than we tasted, mostly because of faulty corks.
James Laube, an editor of Wine Spectator magazine, reported two years ago on a tasting of elite 1991 California cabernets in which nearly 15 percent of the wines were spoiled by bad corks.
Some of the problem is physical: as corks age, some dry out and crumble. Others were poor fits to begin with and allowed too much air into the bottle, oxidizing the wine. But the contamination derives principally from trichloranisole, or TCA, a substance formed by the action of chlorine on cork bark or wood.
Traditionally, corks were bleached in a chlorine solution as part of the manufacturing. Other substances have been used but, despite major efforts by the cork industry and regular announcements that the problem had been eliminated, it persists. Winemakers estimate that up to 5 percent of all bottled wine is contaminated by TCA. Cork producers say the figure is much lower.
The industry was hardly unfamiliar with screw tops. For years, jug wines and cheap fortified wines had been closed with them. Some years ago, when the E.&J. Gallo Winery switched from screw tops to corks for its famous Hearty Burgundy, it was an unmistakable sign that the wine had increased in stature.
Most objections to screw-top wine bottles appear to be directed at restaurants, where their presence has more to do with image and prestige than in the home. This is certainly true of expensive wines. But restaurateurs who have used screw tops on moderate-price wines say they have encountered little objection from customers. And anyone who has used the bottles at home — or who has taken screw-top wines on a picnic — quickly sees how convenient they are.
A small Napa Valley winery called PlumpJack broke the ice, so to speak, in 1997, offering a $135 cabernet with a screw top. Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz followed, first putting screw tops on 80,000 cases of its moderate-price wines and later moving to bottle all of its wines, including its top of the line Cigare Volant, with screw tops.
Among the other California wineries that have switched wholly or in part to screw caps are Beringer Blass, Calera, Sonoma-Cutrer, Murphy-Goode, the Napa Wine Company, Whitehall Lane, Robert Pepi, R. H. Phillips and E.&J. Gallo, which is using metal caps for its huge Turning Leaf line. Fetzer Vineyards uses screw caps on wines it exports to Europe. In Oregon, WillaKenzie and the Argyle winery in Dundee are using screw caps.
Hogue Cellars in Washington is to switch to screw caps next year for its 450,000 case annual production. Hogue and R. H. Phillips are owned by Vincor International, a Canadian company. Vincor also owns Kim Crawford Wines in New Zealand, which has been using screw caps exclusively since 2001. In both New Zealand and Australia, it is estimated that 40 percent of all wineries — about 200 — use screw tops.
Specially treated corks and plastic corks have met with little enthusiasm in the wine business. The best-known screw cap, with a long seal covering the bottle’s opening, is the Stelvin, made by Pechiney Capsules of France. Pechiney has a factory in California.
The Stelvin was first developed in the 1970’s for Swiss wines, which are said to be sensitive to TCA. Since then, the market for Stelvins has expanded to include Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile, as well as the United States.
Customers in France include Michel Laroche, who bottles a premier cru Chablis under screw caps, Yvon Mau in Bordeaux, Domaine Blanck and Georges Lorentz in Alsace and the Domaine de la Baume in the Languedoc. Fortant de France, one of the best-known Languedoc wines, is now bottled with screw caps. Even Bodegas Torres in Spain, a major cork-producing country, uses Stelvins on some of its white wines.
Tesco, the largest wine retailer in Britain, has more than 100 screw-capped wines in its stores and expects more. Georges Duboeuf, the largest of the Beaujolais producers, ships some of his wines to Tesco in screw tops. Switzerland, too, sells Duboeuf Beaujolais in screw tops, but Mr. Duboeuf said last week that he produces only about 30,000 cases with screw tops. While the market for his screw tops is increasing, he said, he is also using plastic corks. They are, he said, entirely satisfactory and will probably be a more important replacement for cork than the metal caps.
Most producers have been hesitant to use screw caps on wines destined to age. Ironically, they are the wines that probably need them most because even corks not tainted with TCA dry out over time and fail to keep delicate old wines safe from air.
But 98 percent of all wine is drunk within six months after its purchase. I am willing to predict that within a decade, 75 percent or more of these wines will be sold with metal caps.
by Frank J. Prial
Published: April 21, 2004