The Winery goes out to bat for screwcaps

Wednesday, 26 July, 2006
Web Words
The Winery is the first South African producer to be listed as a member of the International Screwcap Initiative (ISI) – a world-wide non-profit making association aimed at developing wine quality by encouraging the use of screwcap wine seals.
Alex Dale, co-founder of Stellenbosch-based wine producers The Winery, will take the lead in promoting the ISI’s cause when he argues the case for these closures in a debate on cork versus screwcap at the Jo’burg Wine Show later this week.

“We want to persuade wine producers that the move to screwcap is about ensuring the quality of the wine from bottling line to consumer, and to educate wine consumers that these closures are increasingly being used specifically on premium wines. It’s definitely a quality issue, not a cost issue.”

The ISI was started in Australasia after New Zealand winemaker Michael Brajkovich, now chairman of the initiative, scientifically researched the cork/screwcap issue for his landmark Master of Wine thesis. Much research has also been carried-out by the Australian Wine Research Institute to determine that screwcaps are a better alternative to natural cork in preserving wine quality. 

Dale says that, after extensive trials in the 70s and 80s, winemakers in Australia and New Zealand started using screwcaps for their top premium wines from 2000 and, and once they gained consumer acceptance, have gradually moved these closures down the pyramind of their wine ranges.

The initiative that really set the momentum going was when the top Riesling producers of Clare Valley in South Australia, led by Jeffrey Grosset, teamed up, in the 2000 vintages, deciding to collectively bottle their finest wines in screwcap instead of cork.

Dale says the experiment was a total success and no-one has looked back since. “It is now almost impossible today to buy a premium Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc from Australia or New Zealand that is not under screwcap, and the usage of screwcaps is mounting rapidly across all varieties, red and white.”

Leading French winemaker Michel Laroche of Domaine Laroche, France’s inaugural member of ISI, chose to make a quality statement by using screwcaps only for his Grand Cru wines.

He said: “Incredibly, methods available for sealing wine bottles haven’t changed in centuries. However, I am convinced that we are on the brink of a veritable revolution. Extensive quality tests show convincing results: apart from protecting against cork taint, screwcaps are also beneficial in the ageing of wine, particularly preserving the aromatic freshness.”

Dale says that what’s inhibiting many South African wine producers from converting to screwcaps is the perception among more traditional consumers that the ritual of pulling a cork adds a certain cachet to the wine.

“We need to persuade them that their confidence in serving good quality wine will actually be boosted by selecting wines sealed with a screwcap. This ensures that the wine has not deteriorated once it has left the cellar and that it tastes exactly as the winemaker intended.”

“Wine corks are a quaint but very flawed 300 year-old technology. It is time to move on and to give precedence to the purity and quality of the wine. Why should we worry about preserving a flawed closure which has caused so many millions of wines to be ruined with cork taint or oxidation?”

“Consumers have forgotten that perfumes, medicines and many other liquids used to be sealed by cork but that all those very exacting industries have long abandoned the cork for closures that guarantee and safeguard quality and longevity. The quality of wine is not guaranteed by the nostalgic pop of a cork –indeed it is very often put at risk by it.”

The ISI’s aims are:
* To encourage and facilitate the use of screwcap wine seals by wine producers all around the worlds
* To provide a forum for gathering and disseminating business intelligence, and otherwise facilitate the exchange of ideas, opinions and contributing to further the use of screwcaps, and
* To identify and develop business and project methodologies, and best practice in use, promotion and education of screwcap wine seals.

The Winery has now introduced screwcaps in three of its four ranges – Black Rock, Vinum and The Winery of Good Hope.
The Winery
Tel: +27 21 855-5528
Fax: +27 21 855-5529