The Death of Screw Caps: The Empire Strikes Back.

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It would be harder to find a tittle more appropriate for this discussion. After I posted “The Death of Screw Caps” last month, the “Empire” (pro screwcappers) attacked my article with vehemence.

Darth Vader: [having cornered Luke during their lightsaber battle] You are beaten. It is useless to resist.

I collected several pieces of the lightsaber battle that took place on my Facebook wall:

Robert Joseph I love Coravin. So, I’d go for “Keep calm and use Coravin”. If the cork producers really could reduce TCA and random ox to near-zero levels, I’d be happy to support cork. As it is, we are very close to sending human beings to Mars but still haven’t found an ideal way to seal a bottle of wine costing several hundreds of dollars. And we’re not about to rectify that situation as long as opinion formers are so ready to rejoice in the generosity of Amorim’s hospitality, while shrugging off variable packaging performance as part of “the romance of wine”

Robert Joseph So what I’d really like is for Coravin to hurry up and give us devices that work on Nomacorc and Diam

Luiz: Ok, Robert… so we can all agree that Coravin is a great tool, right? However, as you said, it doesn’t work at all with Nomacorc and Diam. So, until it changes (and despite of our disagreement), we have to keep calm and use cork… At least, I will! Cheers!!

Richard Auffrey The average wine drinker won’t pay $300 for a Coravin, plus pay for the argon cartridges. Most people drink wine within 48 hours of purchase. Screw caps work just fine for them, so they aren’t vanishing. For wine collectors, the Coravin may make sense but it is too pricey and unnecessary for the average wine drinker.

Luiz: Richard, how are you my friend? I know I mentioned consumer habits and bla, bla, bla… but I know this is not for the “average wine consumer”. I’m sure that they don’t read my blog! I was talking to people like you and me… and Adam Japko, and Richard Schnitzlein, and Rob Ciampa, and Brad Smith, and Stacy Sullivan Woods… and most of all: I killed the screw cap in regards to my own consumption… “With this new technology, there is no room for an impenetrable closure. I have already changed my buying habits because of it. If I can avoid buying a wine under screw cap, I will.” And that’s all folks… Cheers my friend!

Robert Joseph Luiz, we are all free to make our choices of how we spend our money. However… I have a problem allying the words ‘wine lover’, with the notion of avoiding buying over 90% of New Zealand and Australian wine, and a decent chunk of fine wine in Austria and Germany. My point, which you are sadly verifying, is that knowledgeable opinion formers like you make it far too easy for the cork industry to Keep Calm and Go On Selling Faulty Products.  Maybe I take broader view of wine, but I include the 37% of French wine that is now sold in Bag in Box and the huge majority of lower-price Swiss wine that’s sold under screwcap. I also care about the cheap wine – including some with French appellations – that is hamelesssly packed with agglomerate or Altec corks which are almost guaranteed to have a negative effect on wine flavour.

Robert Joseph To say “I use Coravin and natural cork” and imply that this is a solution for others is worryingly reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s supposed recommendation that the poor eat cake.

Luiz: Robert: As the great debater that you are, you make good points. However, you treat cork as a faulty product ‘per se’ and this is not true. The numbers today for contaminated corks are much lower than they used to be 20 years ago. Do you agree with that? And what about faulty screw caps? I find it interesting that people don’t talk about it… Anyway, I’ll not refrain myself from buying something that I REALLY want to buy because that wine is under a screwcap. If I go to a store and find this wonderful German Riesling under screwcap, there’s a chance I’ll buy it… even if it’s not under natural cork. As I said on my article, “If I can avoid buying a wine under screw cap, I will.” Please note the “if” on my statement… Cheers!

Hugo Mesquita Luiz, thank you very much for standing out and defend everything that Cork stands for as a natural and sustainable product, with History, Tradition and Culture (for those who understand that), as well as helping Amorim pass along the message about Quality Products. Because there is all sorts of products and producers for everything out there and the scientific resources that today have been put to the service of the cork industry are indeed changing dramatically the way a cork made out of cork (cause some which look like cork really are not majority made out of it) performs. I still prefer my natural wine under a natural closure. though I understand that some consumers don’t mind packing artificially. there is a lot to debate around here…

Robert Joseph: Luiz, yes corks are better than they were. Far better. But so is almost everything else! They are still inherently faulty. As any retailer or producer to compare the level of complaints between natural cork and mass-produced industrial alternatives. The clue is in the word “natural”. And you ‘d buy a “wonderful German Riesling” but walk straight past a wonderful Australian Semillon. I don’t call that being a “Wine Lover”. And Hugo, beware of bowing too low to “history and tradition”. Some pretty unacceptable behaviour under modern standards – towards people of different coloured skin, women and children for example – can fairly be described with both those words. It is of course your prerogative to choose the wine style and packaging you prefer, but I’d ask you and everyone else who professes to be a wine enthusiast to put as much pressure on the cork producers as possible rather than pat them on the back for what they ave achieved. After all Amorim’s Carlos de Jesus, whom I know and get on with well, freely admits that until people like me started to rattle the bars of their cage, they and other manufacturers paid far too little attention to quality control.

Sarah May Grunwald: Robert Joseph, I was just going to say the same thing about tradition. I still think cork is a great product and not just for wine. But using tradition as a reason for anything can get one into dangerous waters. Spanish use the word “tradition” to justify things like killing bulls for entertainment or burning donkeys alive for public entertaiment. Progress is made when the people no longer stand for such examples of tradition. However, when it comes to food and wine, the history and tradition of a region makes it all the more interesting.

Robert Joseph If we are told that it’s a tradition to eat the brains of live moneys in China (I believe it to be an urban myth, but it’s often talked about), I’d guess that we’d say it was wrong. More pertinently, Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriages certainly ARE widespread, long-standing historical traditions most of us would be happy to see consigned to the dustbin.

Sarah May Grunwald But of course we aren’t comparing some faulty wines to any of those atrocities. That would just be wrong. I would accept all the faulty wines on earth for the rest of my life to put an end to any of those things.

Robert Joseph You know I’m never too averse to hyperbole in order to catch people’s attention. And of course, all civilised people would agree with you. I’m just making the point that it’s too easy to excuse almost anything with what seem to be anodyne adjectives.

Eloi Guterres First of all: Context = Wine.
I personally think that “tradition” still has a place in today’s world, and even if some of the modern screwcaps have a calculated “oxygen admission”, it’s still something mechanical, and I insist to profess that a bottle of wine is always something organic and magical, with the flaws of mother nature being a possible reality.
Call me a retrograde romantic fool, I can handle it!

Luiz: Robert: 1) “I don’t call that being a “Wine Lover”.” -> There are people who love wine that will never taste an Australian Semillon in their entire lives. Is it a sad thing? Maybe… but most consumers of wine will never get anywhere close to tasting a wine made in qvevri, which, to me, is even more sad… The truth is: there are more options out there that we (as #winelover-s) can possibly handle. We all can make choices without being accused of not loving wine. Some people have accused me of other things in the past… but that I’m not a #winelover? That’s a first! 2) “eat the brains of live moneys”, “Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriages”… to compare to the history and tradition of cork? come on… with all due respect, you can do better than that!

Robert Joseph Luiz. I am doing consultancy work for Georgia so I care about whether or not people taste qvevri wines, but to be honest anyone wearing the words winelover on a t-shirt is in a different league to “people who love wine”. I wouldn’t expect someone wearing a #operalover t shirt to say “I never listen to any music on a CD or MP3”. They might legitimately prefer vinyl or whatever, but they should be open and eager to taste anything. As I responded to Sarah May Grunwald, my reference to FGM was deliberately provocative, but my point was serious. Tradition is not necessarily good.

Robert Joseph: Eloi Guterres, I happen to love lots of traditional things, but I could point out that a bottle of wine with a cork is a relatively young tradition. When corks were introduced, as a replacement for the ground glass stoppers then used to seal carafes, people complained at their taste. Wine is organic and magical. That’s what I love about it – and why I don’t like its organic magical flavours being screwed up by the failings of a bit of wood bark.

Eloi Guterres Robert, we don’t see things in the same light, but I respect your view.

Robert Joseph Thank you Eloi. And I yours!

Luiz: Robert: I hope we all respect the different points of view… but I believe you are mixing up passion for something (in our case, wine) with the necessity of loving (or trying to love) everything that relates to it. For instance, can someone be a genuine sex lover even if that person has never tried (or is willing to try) gay sex? I rest my case. Cheers!!

Robert Joseph Fair point Luiz and a fair return of service: your gay sex for my FGM. There is, I agree, no +necessity+ to try everything, just because you call yourself a lover of a category. However… I’m sorry a) to hear anyone shut themselves off from experiences that are not really challenging (screwcap Semillon v gay sex). and b) to see how easily a little marketing expenditure from a company like Amorim (or any other) can have such a positive impact on its recipients.
Like everybody else, I have favourite and less favourite styles (I can live without most Pinotage and have had too many bad experiences with badly made ‘natural’/’primitive’ wines) but I’ll potentially taste or buy any wine with any closure.

Luiz: Same here, Robert. I’ll also potentially taste or buy any wine with any closure”… but, as I have declared, I have my preferences. Therefore, I cannot accept your argument that this would make of me a “lesser #winelover“. But then again, I think we agreed that we will respect different opinions in our discussions…

 

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Back in 2009, this is what Sally Easton MW had to say about the debate about closures: “Oxygen ingress has become the new black for the closures industries. TCA is last season’s outfit, and environmental considerations remain an underground movement, threatening to move into main stream fashion at any moment” . The question is…  has the world become any “greener” after 6 years? Wouldn’t people in general and wine consumers be more interested now in issues related to carbon footprint than they were back then? Well, for those of you who didn’t know, natural cork has the lowest carbon footprint of all closures. Can you guess who has the highest? Correct! Screw caps…

 

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I know I started this “war” because of Coravin (www.coravin.com) and the benefits it brought to my life. I would agree when people say that natural cork is not the perfect closure. Even if the number of bottles with cork taint was drastically reduced in the past 20 years, the problem still exists (from 1% to 3% depending how it’s measured). However, it’s still the most used closure for good reasons: It has an incredible ability to compress and expand to for a tight seal and this is the very reason why it’s the only closure that works with Coravin, while Nomacorc (www.nomacorc.com) and DIAM (www.diam-closures.com) don’t, it also has the ability of allowing the wine to breath over long periods of time (nano-oxygenation), and it’s regarded as the most environmentally friendly since corks are easy to recycle and it’s sustainably produced. A cork tree is never cut down for cork production. It’s only the outside bark that is stripped every 9 years… #good2know

 

As Yoda said: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” These 2 videos might help with that…

 

The Ajka alumina sludge spill was an industrial accident at a toxic waste reservoir chain of the Ajkai Timföldgyár alumina plant in Ajka, Veszprém County, in western Hungary.

 

A short video from the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance – www.corkforest.org/ – about the remarkable cork forests of the Mediterranean basin and the organizations conservation efforts.
I’ll leave you with these wise words from Greg Lambrecht: “I can’t agree with you more Luiz. I am Greg, the founder of Coravin, and I must admit, I hate screw tops because they prevent me from drinking wines the way I want to, which is any volume, any time, without compromise. I love cork and it’s incredible elasticity and longevity! I celebrate anytime a producer shifts back to cork. That said, I’m working on a system that works with screw tops. It won’t be as good as cork, but pretty good. I will use it, and I hope to make it available to all if I can. My preference in the end however, will always be for the beauty of the natural.”
May the force be with you! :)
Cheers!

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Luiz Alberto,

  •  >>> Founder of the #winelover community
  • >>> MW candidate
  • >>> Member of the Circle of Wine Writers.

I combine my passion for wine with social media.

Follow me on twitter: @thewinehub

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11 Responses to The Death of Screw Caps: The Empire Strikes Back.

  1. Dame Wine March 9, 2015 at 11:41 am #

    Great debate. Thanks for sharing!

    • Luiz March 9, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

      Thanks for the support, Cathrine! Cheers!

  2. thejosephreport March 10, 2015 at 6:49 am #

    Thanks for posting this debate extremely even-handedly, Luiz. I currently – unwillingly – seal some of my red wines with cork (under pressure from US and Chinese distributors) and my whites and Pinot Noir with screwcaps. Having opened a 1994 Australian red which was riddled with TCA (what a waste of 20 years of cellar-space!), I have no doubt about which type opt closure I prefer.
    However, just as I today posted news of a wholly new kind of wind-powered electricity generators that look like trees and are twice as efficient as the big windmills we’re used to, I’m very certain that someone will soon devise a better alternative to both corks AND screwcaps. http://www.iflscience.com/tags/tree-vent

    • Luiz March 10, 2015 at 8:38 am #

      Hi Robert, thanks for taking the time. I’m all for a better future… I hope you are right! :) Cheers!

  3. Cork Forest (@CorkForest) March 11, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

    Luiz,
    Thank you for the informative and even handed post “The Death of Screwcaps…”. The replies to your post have not only be interesting but quite humorous. Regarding some of the interesting replies, I find it curious the degree the certainty of “facts” that some of the posters have made concerning the issues with natural cork. After 8 years of research, our organization has yet to find one accredited study that proves the widespread claims of TCA rates being anywhere from 5-15%, (in bottles sealed with natural cork). It seems like the people who find all the bottles of wine with TCA are those who either sell screw caps or plastic plugs, close close their bottles with them or bloggers seeking to make “the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs”, because they are looking for next best closure. As Obi-Wan said, “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view”.

    It is our experience that the closure debate has shifted from TCA to cost of the closure, but should include the environment. It’s apparent that the battle for the Empire, from the wine industry perspective is focused on cost of the closure, where winemakers are looking at reduced margins and increased production costs.

    But the real battle is for the health of the Empire. It is truly rare that any story about closures focuses on the high environmental impact screwcaps and plastic closure have on the health of our planet. A cursory search on Google, regarding the production of aluminum and petrochemicals will provide a significant amount of data to show the enormous energy consumption, soil/water pollution and the health risks these products create in their manufacture.

    No amount of “green washing” from the alternative closure companies can combat the truths regarding natural cork, i.e. the cork forests provide a significant amount of our planets oxygen, absorb over 20 million tons of CO2, each year, are a major contributor in stemming the tide of climate change, are sustainable, renewable and are home to over13,000 species of forest life that live nowhere else in the galaxy.

    We keep asking the same question; If we continue to use products that poison the very ground and water we are trying to grow grapes in, will we really need to worry about what closure is best for wine?

    Best,
    Patrick Spencer
    Executive Director
    Cork Forest Conservation Alliance
    501c3 NGO

    • Luiz March 25, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

      Thanks, Nick!
      It’s a sad thing that people don’t realize how muck better our planet would be if all the products we used were as “green” and sustainable as cork…
      But I’m an optimist by nature! We can win this battle! :)
      Cheers,
      LA

  4. Nick March 12, 2015 at 5:12 am #

    Love the debate, Luiz. How boring would life be if we all liked the same wine closure let alone the same wine!

  5. Matthew May 22, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    As much as I liked reading this article, I liked reading the comments

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