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The End of Wine Corks?

2012 November 14
by Richard Jennings

11/9/12 Wild Game Feast at JR & Renee's

What would you think if eight percent of the milk or orange juice you bought was spoiled before you even brought it home? If the same percentage of eggs, meat or bread was ruined before you purchased them? Would you think it was time for an investigation of the dairy/OJ/meat industry? Would you keep buying the product, knowing the chance of buying something undrinkable or inedible was that high?

Wine is a delicate product, affected by the temperature it is stored at, and very much affected by how much oxygen gets into the wine during production, bottling and/or via the closure used on the bottle. It can also be contaminated by organic compounds that are introduced to the bottle through the cork.

The latter are some of the nastiest enemies to good tasting wine. The predominant culprit is a compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or TCA for short. Most wine lovers refer to it simply as cork taint.

Cork taint saps a wine of its natural flavor. It is usually detectable as a “wet cardboard” or “musty basement” smell on the wine, and is one of the prime reasons sommeliers present a small pour of a wine they have just opened to a consumer to smell and taste. Sometimes this smell is only vaguely detectable at first, or only identifiable by those of us who are used to encountering it on a regular basis. It will, however, grow in the glass with exposure to air, so that eventually, almost everyone will be able to detect it.

Another issue with corks is that, as a natural product that varies in thickness and other attributes, often in ways discernible only under a microscope, different corks even from the same batch and same tree will let in different amounts of oxygen. As a result, I’ve had bottles stored for a decade or two under ideal conditions (i.e., in a winery’s cellar, since bottling) where different bottles from the same case, tasted on the same day, showed different amounts of exposure to oxygen—all the way from very fresh tasting bottles to quite oxidized ones with little remaining fruit flavor showing.

October 2012 003

The failure rate for natural corks was estimated to be about 8.3% in 2007 and 2008, or about one bottle in 12. This is based on statistics kept by the International Wine Challenge, which tastes and analyzes more than 14,000 bottles annually (i.e., about twice as many as I do). About 5% of those faulty bottles were due to TCA; the rest were oxidation and sulphur related faults, i.e., due to too much or too little oxygen entering the bottle.

The cork industry has taken great strides to reduce the level of TCA in corks since then, and claims to have brought the incidence of TCA in bottles sealed with natural cork down to only about 1.3%. Even if that’s true—and some, like Wine Spectator critic James Laube, dispute that the rate of cork taint has changed that much, based on their own tastings–I believe that’s still too high when there are abundant alternatives that have virtually no chance of introducing TCA to the bottle.

Then there’s the fact that corks break down over time, or get soggy from contact with the wine. I don’t know how many corks on older bottles I’ve opened that have crumbled, or broken in half, necessitating lots of skill, and specialized equipment, to rescue the remaining cork so it doesn’t fall into the wine. I taste a lot of wine, of course, and it happens at least several times a week for me.

I for one am profoundly tired of spending good money (a lot in some cases) on a wine, only to have it spoiled primarily due to problems with the cork. Fortunately, many other wine lovers with various kinds of expertise (and in some cases, deep pockets) have also been dismayed with this state of affairs, and have developed a number of alternative closures.

What’s fascinating is that many of these closures—like screw caps, artificial corks and other stoppers—not only eliminate the TCA that can get into the bottle through a natural cork, they can also moderate the amount of oxygen that gets into the wine over time in measurable ways, giving winemakers much more control than they have had in the past over this important aspect of a wine’s development.

I met this month with a representative from Nomacorc, one of the most advanced of the artificial cork makers, and learned a lot from them about “total oxygen management.” Their product, which is made from extruded foam sealed in an unbreakable membrane, has been created in different sizes and thicknesses so as to precisely control how much oxygen gets to the wine through the closure over time.

Nov 2012 008
different types of Nomacorcs

Studies have been done by a variety of entities, including U.C. Davis, the Australian Wine Research Institute and France’s INRA, on oxygen management with different types of bottle closures. One of the findings has been that some varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are more oxygen resistant, while others, like Sauvignon Blanc, are highly sensitive to slight variations in the amount of oxygen that gets into the bottle as a result of winemaking practices, bottling, and through various types of closures.

I tasted two otherwise identical bottles of Hungarian Sauvignon Blanc that had been bottled on the same day this past January, one with a Nomacorc artificial cork that permitted little oxygen to enter and the other with one that permitted more oxygen in. I could easily detect which one had allowed less oxygen in, as that wine was noticeably fresher and more aromatic. We also tasted a 2003 California Cab that had been sealed under a prior version of the Nomacorc, and it was still tasting fine—actually quite youthful in its development.

Nov 2012 010
NomaSelector program result

Nomacorc has created a pretty sophisticated program, called NomaSelector, that is intended to have winemakers answer a fairly lengthy battery of questions—about the grape(s) they’ve used, different aspects of the winemaking, and how long they intend the wine to stay in bottle before sale or being served. There are several dozen questions, and they vary for white wines versus red wines. I tried answering the questions for a couple of hypothetical wines, and was very impressed by the level of detail involved. The result is a recommendation for one of four types of Nomacorc’s Select series closures, based on how much oxygen was involved in the winemaking and how much oxygen is desirable to enter the bottle through the closure before it gets to the consumer.

Similar experimentation is going on with screw caps and other types of closures. Screw caps with VinPerfect liners and ZORK peelable plastic closures, for example, also permit a reliable, small amount of oxygen to enter the bottle, much like the Nomacorcs.

I am thrilled when I see wines under screw caps these days. I wish those who bottle their wines under other superior alternatives to cork would also start making that more evident to consumers. As a lover of aged wines, of course, I will be dealing with bottles with natural corks—and the risk of cork taint and crumbled corks—for the rest of my life. It would be great, though, if we all had to worry less about possible cork taint, and were reliably getting better bottles of wine, free from as many avoidable defects as possible.

Natural cork served us very well as a closure for wine bottles for at least three centuries, but I believe its time is up. Much better, taint-free alternatives are now available, and it’s time for consumers to embrace and demand them.

33 Responses leave one →
  1. November 14, 2012

    It’s good to see rational discussions of this topic. What I don’t see much discussion of, and would love to see more, is evidence of how much of the positive changes in an aged wine are anaerobic and how much are aerobic.
    Knowledge of those facts would add greatly to the discussion

  2. Szabolcs permalink
    November 14, 2012

    Very good post about a really important problem.
    May I ask which winery the Hungarian wines was from?

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      November 14, 2012

      Thank you. The 2011 Hungarian Sauv Blancs were from Nyakas, their Budai OEM Etyek-Buda bottling.

  3. Larry Stein permalink
    November 14, 2012

    Richard, I wish I had known you were writing about this. I would’ve suggested you contact Stuart Yaniger who I’ve known for a number of years. He invented the Neocork. I’m quite certain he could’ve provided some very illuminating information about the cork industry, especially plastic corks.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      November 14, 2012

      Larry,
      I am happy to talk with Stuart, and I hardly think this is the last time I’ll be writing on this subject. I’ve also requested additional info from a couple of other sources.

      • November 16, 2012

        Richard, you met Andy Starr – one of the other founders of the Neocork yesterday. He has been a great source of advice to us over the past years. His experience – expecially with the learning curve on oxygen that they went through was very formative in our approach to VinPerfect’s Product.

  4. rebecca permalink
    November 14, 2012

    There are a few thoughts that should be mentioned about the cork situation. First TCA is often referred to as cork taint; this wrongly suggests the cork is the sole cause of TCA. TCA can be found in bottled water, wine bottled with screw caps, beer, spirits, soft drinks, packaged food products, vegetables (i often walk into a grocery store and can spell the TCA). TCA in wine may be due to:
    – Contaminated oak barrels or corks
    – Contaminated winery machinery or bottling equipment
    – Airborne molds in the winery environs
    – Molds in transport containers or the home cellar
    – Lint left in the bottle due to the white cardboard boxes that have been bleached

    The article should have also looked at a new cork that has come out called Diam which many wineries are moving to. The process that has been develop to make the Diam cork eliminates over 150 pollutants directly from the raw cork material. Also Diam corks are guaranteed to be uniform in size, shape, neutrality and permeability. Bottle-to-bottle variation is prevented, so wines are free to age and develop homogeneously.

    The last thought is about the environmental impact. It has been shown that screwcaps produce 32 times the amount of CO2 as well as they take 1000 of years to decompose in our landfill. Corks can also be “repurposed” into flooring and other items.

    • December 12, 2012

      Sono assulutamente daccordo.
      Non riesco a immaginare un vino rosso di categoria con un tappo di plastica,
      Anche se i tempi cambiano, io sono per la tradizione
      Claudia

  5. November 15, 2012

    I want to echo Rebecca’s notation of the fact that corks are not the only vector for TCA, and in some cases may mitigate low level TCA in wine through absorbtion. Bromine is another foundation block for Halo Anisole Contamination like TCA and also found in vectors beyond cork.
    How do we know for sure that past bad bottles of wine were truly the blame of the natural cork closure? With the increased investment in winemaking technology and improvement in process there has been a significant drop in contaminated wines, and frankly, if I see 1% in tastinggs right now that’s a lot. There is more badly made wine out there than good wine gone bad.

    Making wine at home we mostly use agglomerated corks, made from smaller bits glued into an aggregate, and have had no problems to date.
    With regard to sustainability, there are the larger sunk carbon costs of alternate closures, and to end the use of natural cork would be to doom the historic cork forests to the bulldozer and housing development.

    I think that there is plenty of room in the market for both natural cork and it’s alternatives to serve the winemaking styles of the producers, their budgets, and their long term expectations.
    I’m all for change, and improvement, but still remain a bit nostalgic, and am not ready to have my wine served from a plastic bottle under screw cap…at least not yet.
    Cheers.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      November 15, 2012

      Todd,

      I keep hearing the same tired arguments from the cork industry apologists. Yes, there are other means for TCA to get into wine, but it’s not going to be through the other types of closures. The one type of closure that’s responsible is one in which TCA and its precursors are ubiquitous, and that’s cork. Those of us who taste new releases of wine regularly are continuing to find an unacceptable level of cork taint, despite the lowered statistics the cork industry is claiming these days. The sustainability canard is becoming the last bastion of cork apologists, and it doesn’t fly either. Only 1% of the carbon footprint of a wine bottle has to do with the closure. Alternatives to natural cork, like Nomacorcs, are recyclable too. And there are other uses for natural cork besides wine corks.

      Nostalgia is not a legitimate basis for condemning winemakers and wine lovers to a level of product faultiness that would not be acceptable in other food and beverage products.

      –Richard

      • November 16, 2012

        Richard,
        I appreciate the logic of your preference for alternative enclosures. That said, I do not see a reason to completely demonize a product that a vast number of consumers find more than acceptable, even if it be for only nostalgic reasons. The tenor of the anti-cork argument at times reaches a pitch that I think has the potential to alienate consumers as equally as inform them, due to it’s assumption that use of cork is foolish, ergo the consumption of wine under cork is even more so.
        I’ve got some 2008 LaCrescent that has held beautifully under Nomacorc closures, and a Bonny Doon Club member so I’m not a cork purist, but I still hold the position that there is room in the marketplace for multiple closure styles from the modern to antque.
        Cheers,
        Todd

        • Richard Jennings permalink*
          November 16, 2012

          Todd,
          I appreciate your comment. I think consumers need to be better educated on the issues with natural cork, and the availability of better alternatives. There’s very little of that kind of info reaching consumers, as yet. I am fed up with cork for the reasons stated in my piece. I’ve been watching for over a decade while alternatives have been created, tested and analyzed, and I think we’re at the point where several alternatives are superior to natural cork. Meanwhile, millions of dollars worth of wine continues to get packaged under less than optimum natural cork seals, leading to unnecessary product degradation at levels we wouldn’t tolerate in other food and beverage products because not enough of us are speaking up.

          –Richard

      • Richard Auffrey permalink
        November 16, 2012

        Where are you getting your figure that only 1% of the carbon footprint is due to the closure? This study indicates a higher percentage (http://www.knowtheflow.com/2012/getting-it-straight-exact-carbon-emissions-from-one-bottle-of-wine)

        The environmental issue is also much larger than the carbon footprint of a wine bottle. You can’t just examine that specific but must look at the broader industry, which means separately examining the carbon footprint of the cork industry vs alternative closures. This independent study indicates the much greater carbon impact of alternative closures vs cork (http://www.corkfacts.com/publications/2009mar24.htm).

        • Richard Jennings permalink*
          November 16, 2012

          Richard,
          The study you cite was hardly “independent.” It was paid for by the cork industry, and is highly biased in its assumptions. I guess you think the accounting firm studies paid for by the Romney campaign were “independent” as well?

          • Richard Auffrey permalink
            November 16, 2012

            First, I have absolutely no connection to the cork industry.

            Second, you failed to answer my first question as to the source of your own 1% allegation.

            Third, you fail to note which of the 2 studies I quoted you are referring to.

            Fourth, just because a study is paid for by the cork industry does not automatically mean it is biased. You need to show proof of such bias., which you failed to do so.

            Fifth, which specific assumptions in the study do you feel are “highly biased?” And where is the proof that such assumptions are highly biased?

            Sixth, what is your response to the other study?

            Seventh, what is your response to the idea that we have to look beyond the carbon footprint of a single bottle to the footprint of the greater industry?

            Eighth, like the politicians in the presidential debates, you seem to make unsupported allegations rather than cogently addressing the issues I raised.

        • November 24, 2012

          Hi Richard,

          The below response comes in consultation with one of my colleagues from Nomacorc, Dr. Olav Aagaard, principal scientist.

          The 1% figure originates from life cycle analyses done and reported on literature. The PDF document which was published and is available on the internet (see http://www.alufoil.org/tl_files/sustainability/Quantis_-_Wine_2010_-_Exec_Sum.pdf) provides the facts on the impact of the closure versus the environmental impact of producing a bottle of wine.

          As to the two literature pieces you refernce, when the first one talks about the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine:
          -It says that 46% of the carbon footprint comes from the packaging material
          -The closure constitutes 4% of the packaging impact, which means that it would contribute 1.8%, which is pretty close to what Richard stated
          -Note also that the Quantis report referenced above provides a range of values for a carbon footprint of a bottle of wine from 1,000 to 4,000 grams of CO2 per bottle, and on average 3,300 grams; the webpage you cite uses 1,280 grams of CO2, on the very low side. The reason it is on the low side is because the distribution part (shipping) is low in comparison to other studies.

          I do think it is important to be aware of the source of data as it can reveal biases, although I agree that it does not inately render the data useless. The second reference in the comments is from a cork producer, Amorim, and refers to a study done by them on closures.

          -Note that the natural cork closure cited in this study is a full natural cork which; other closures like technical cork or agglomerated corks have different (higher) values and are generally more prevelant in the market.

          In addition, here is a link to another good literature piece which might help, which describes the life cycle analysis of a bottle of wine in great detail (http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228069142_Life_cycle_environmental_impacts_of_wine_production_and_consumption_in_Nova_Scotia_Canada). It disucsses the important aspects for a winery to improve its carbon footprint, including:
          -Vineyard nutrient management
          -Vineyard (tractor) fuel consumption
          -Winery electricity use
          -Bottle weight
          -Shipping distance and conditions to retailer

          Furthermore, and probably most startling in this report, is the consumer shopping trip can account for 30% or more of the carbon footprint of a wine bottle. The closure, cap and label impacts are peanuts (less than 1% for the closure) compared to these other factors. The takeaway: a winery should focus its efforts on those things which can help significantly improve its footprint.

          In the article you can find some nice examples of where a winery can really “win,” such as:
          -Using a lighter bottle can save more than 5% of the footprint (usually also comes with lower cost for the bottle)
          -Shipping by larger (full) trucks can save more than 8% on the footprint
          -Switching to renewable electricity can save the winery more than 8% on the footprint (but normally there is a cost attached to this)
          -The way wineries apply and minimize the use of their fertilizers could save some points of its 16% impact on the footprint
          -And finally, maintain the tractors for optimal fuel consumption can minimize its now 5% impact on the footprint (and save money on fuel)

          Last but not least, in one of your cited examples the total carbon footprint of a bottle of wine is 1.28 kg of CO2 equivalent emissions. A Nomacorc closure carbon footprint is now at 11 grams of CO2 equivalent emissions, which is less than 1% of this total as well. Nomacorc is striving towards lowering its carbon footprint by continuous process improvement and product innovation which will drive down our footprint even further.

          Hope that helps address your question. Happy to discuss further.

  6. Keith Pritchard permalink
    November 15, 2012

    Most screwcaps are lined with saranex which has been removed from saran wrap because of plasticizer migration to food. So these really should not be used for wine. I would wonder what the membrane in the Nomacorc is made from. Saranex has unusally good oxygen barrier capabilities, but I don’t believe it to be a really safe material. I believe most beer caps have been changed to polyethylene which are better but don’t have the oxygen barrier properties. Hence a lot of dating on beer now. I also use Diam corks they have all the favorable qualities of cork and nearly none of the unfavorable aspects. They actually have more cork cells in them than a natural punched cork. I have been using it as well as the precursors of Diam for at least a dozen years without incident. I switched because of TCA in bottles of wine and haven’t had it since, though the new processes of washing are much better since they don’t use chlorine anymore.

    • November 16, 2012

      Some comments on polymer choices, since some of the above is incorrect:

      I would worry more about plasticisers in DIAM closures than I would with screwcap.

      As a rule, the more an oxygen barrier any polymer is, the harder it gets. Polymers that need to be compressed (like those in synthetic corks and the filler / binder plastics in diam) are poor oxygen barriers. That is a fundamental relationship.

      An example I heared just yesterday: Neocork once prototyped a synthetic cork out of saran resin – and it ended up being a hard brick. that would never be compressible into a bottle neck.

      To get lower oxygen transmission with a plastic, the plastic will get harder. Every time.

      The reason saranex is usable in screwcaps is because it is such a good barrier, a very thin film of it is enough to exclude oxygen from the bottle. There is no “barrier” in nomacork’s per-se. They have done a better job of controlling oxygen by creating smaller and smaller cells in their foam, and by trading hardness for oxygen. Even so, their tightest closures still let in too much oxygen for any wine that needs to survive past 9-12 months.

      Getting back on track: There is no evidence that saranex leaches any plasticizers of any kind. There are concerns about flavor scalping with those liners, (which I have not seen quantified) but that is as far as it goes. Saranex certainly has not been replaced for use in wine. Every wine screwcap in use today, with the exception of the ones made by VinPerfect (my company) have a saranex film in contact the wine. Even the Tin liners have saranex covering the tin.

      For VinPerfect’s product we chose PET (also known as polyester or mylar) as the contact surface. Winemakers avoid chlorinated anything as a course of habit It is the best, most trusted, completely inert polymer we have. There are no plasticisers, no chlorine, no BPA (you find BPA in some polycarbonates – not in polyesters). PET does not scalp flavors, nor impart any.

      Hope that helps.

      Richard – great meeting you yesterday!

      • Richard Jennings permalink*
        November 16, 2012

        Tim,

        It was great meeting you yesterday. Your work on the VinPerfect closure is impressive, and I appreciated learning more about it. Also enjoyed meeting Andy.

        Thank you for your clarifying comments about saranex and screw caps. I think it’s important that the obfuscative and misleading comments of those who are either working for the cork industry or haven’t done their homework about it get accurately responded to.

        Warm regards,
        Richard

      • November 24, 2012

        Hi Tim,

        Just catching up on the comments and am curious where you are getting your data that the “tightest [Nomacorc] closures still let in too much oxygen for any wine that needs to survive past 9-12 months”?

        Not only is the preservation range that you cite incorrect based on independent data (happy to provide reams, although a basic discussion can be found on Nomacorc’s website, http://www.nomacorc.com) but my own personal experiences (along with other commentors on this very blog) speak otherwise. In the past month alone, I’ve had three well-preserved bottles from 2003 and two from 2005 (a no-sulfur white wine to boot). The list goes on.

        As you likely know, post-bottling performance has to do with numerous complex factors, including winemaking, bottling, storage – not to mention grape variety and other variables. Closures are a player as well. That’s why Nomacorc closures come with a choice between four different oxygen ingress rates. All priced the same. Because managed properly, oxygen is a winemaking tool. And Nomacorc’s closure technology is more advanced than managing cell structure, which you suggest.

        To respond to Keith’s question: Nomacorc closures are made from polyethylene materials that are not only food contact approved, they are also used in sensitive applications such as water and milk packaging. Agglomerated and technical closures bind the cork particles together with polyurethane. Polyurethane has many applications in paint and automotive parts, but is not commonly used in food contact applications.

        I personally believe that there is room and opportunity for many closures in the wine world. However, I get a bit frustrated when unsubstantiated information gets thrown around as fact.

        • November 24, 2012

          My comment about the tightest nomacorcs letting in too much oxygen stems from our work on the subject (you can download my whitepaper at Vinperfect.com) along with the stated oxygen rates of nomacorcs listed on your technical data sheets.

          I will grant that “too much” is based, in part, on opinion, but I think the opinion is rational: The consumer does not believe wine to be perishable. If anything, they expect it will get better with age.

          I believe that nomacorcs are a very good product, and I admire what the company has done in constantly improving their quality, but wines secured with a synthetic closure will have a shelf-life that is much shorter than the customer’s expectation, and as such, I think the responsible thing to do when wineries use them is to put an expiration date on the label.

          I don’t say that nobody should be using synthetics. They are TCA – free, inexpensive, and very consistent. But they do shorten the wine’s potential life. That is something that is supported by all the data done on the subject as well as the real-world experience of myself and essentially every other winemaker I have run into in the past decade.

          The debate is not whether synthetics give a shorter shelf-life than other closures,the debate is about whether the difference is one that matters- and as I have said before,the answer to that one comes down to individual opinion. Most wine is drunk young – but a significant amount is NOT.

          How many times have we opened a bottle that was in the rack for a while, pulled off the foil, to find a synthetic cork and an oxidized wine inside? It happened to me just this thanksgiving weekend.

          If we use synthetics,fine. Just disclose their use so that the consumer understands that they have to drink it in a timely fashion.

  7. Keith Pritchard permalink
    November 16, 2012

    The only research at all I’ve seen that anyone even checked out plasticizers in wine capsules made of saranex was in a rather obscure british article. Anything that makes saranex flexible has had plasticizers in their production. It is a good barrier in spite of the flexibility. Not all plastics such as Polyethylene (which does scalp flavor) have the plasticizer issue. Polyethylene in the low density form is not that good of an oxygen barrier as evidenced by the crappy saran wrap you buy now as compared to its previous saranex form. PET that would make a liner would be safe as it does not have any evidence of a leaching issue, unless plasticizers are used to make it softer to make a better seal. The Diam corks do have some proprietary polymer microspheres and binders but they are not a glue and according to them do not have any leaching in their research. I’ve been using the things for a long time and they are not a plasticizer softened film sort of barrier and they actually have more cork cells in them than a natural cork so I will stick with what I know until such time I learn if there is a problem.

  8. Leo ricardez permalink
    November 17, 2012

    For the ones commenting about the carbon footprint of cork being lower than screw caps, you also have to consider the following:
    Bottles for screw caps are lighter (the neck is thinner and shorter)
    Bottles under cork always come with some sort of capsule, most times it is aluminum, which raises the carbon footprint a lot (maybe to the level of a screw cap?).
    Take whatever percentage you want for spoiled bottles (under cork) due to random oxidation or tca; all of that generates a huge amount of waste (glass, labels, capsules, the wine itself), that just increases the carbon foot print, versus screwcapped bottles that weren’t spoiled…
    So when taking all into consideration, cork might not be the most eco friendly choice…

  9. November 19, 2012

    Hello Richard,

    On behalf of the US Cork Quality Council, I try to keep track of the IWC fault report every year. We think it is an extremely valuable exercise and applaud the IWC’s efforts to characterize the source of faults. Earlier this month, Tim Atkins, who is one of the IWC event chairmen, reported a breakdown of total flaws which includes 26% associated with TCA. Another 27% was associated with sulfides and 25% with oxidation. Brettanomyces was estimated at 13%. He estimates that the rate of cork taint over the past seven years has averaged 2.7%. I could not find the number of wines submitted in cork finish or with screwcaps. Perhaps if you have that data it might explain the difference between your estimate and Atkins’s.

    Now, I am the first to agree that 2.7% is not good, but I am confident that this seven-year average is higher than what we observe in the US market.

    My work with the Cork Quality Council allows me to monitor results for TCA screening for our member cork companies. We receive our data directly from an independent laboratory and tabulate the results of 20,000 test samples each year. Our analysis shows an 82% decline in TCA since we began chemical testing. Current levels suggest that the overall rate of wine TCA faults from corks provided by our member companies would be no higher than 1%.

    Our member companies annually spend over a million dollars on the chemical analyses of their corks. I am sure that there are many fine cork companies in other countries, but similar quality control organizations are uncommon in the wine regions that provide samples to the IWC.

    Cordially,
    Peer Weber

  10. Sam Platt permalink
    December 6, 2012

    A couple of years ago I compared the carbon footprint for cork closures to the carbon footprint for screw cap closures using the Cork Institutes own data. On doing the math I found that cork had a marginally better carbon footprint than screwcaps in terms of metric tons of CO2 produced. However, the difference was about 9% and the carbon footprint contribution of both closures was miniscule in the grand scheme of things.

    I posted the finding to one of the pro-cork sites and they appreciated it so much they banned me from the site. I know this is an emotional issue but the environmental impact argument for using cork rings hollow. Alternative closures are better at protecting and preserving wine and will not hasten the demise of our planet.

    On a personal note – the rate of cork taint I experience is below 2%. I have never seen anyone present real world user data indicating TCA rates greater than 3%. The 5% to 8% rate that is often cited seem to be anecdotal.

    • December 7, 2012

      Sam, I would be interested in seeing that data.

      Just yesterday Peter and I were at a closures-focused event in davis, and this came up as it always does. I had pointed out a couple of the more egregious flaws in Amorim’s lifecycle analysis but I was criticized (and perhaps rightly so) for not having any numbers of my own to offer.

      The more objective, unbiased, data we can get on this the better we are going to be as an entire industry.

      • Sam Platt permalink
        December 7, 2012

        Tim,

        I will have to dig it up. Remember, my comparison was only cork to screw cap. I have no data for Amorim. However, with the correct data available the math would not be that difficult.

  11. December 27, 2012

    First let me state that I am the Executive Director of the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit forest conservation organization. We are not funded by, nor do we represent the cork industry.

    As is often the case, when it comes to the “Cork is Dead” topic Mr. Jennings article is full of half truths, myths and unsubstantiated statements. Every time a wine “expert” writes on this topic, they use the same “facts” that have been the rallying cry from the plastic and screw cap producers, not scientific evidence, or direct information from wineries.

    As for Mr Jennings referencing James Laube as credible source on cork closure failure rates, I’ll accept Mr. Laube’s, TCA failure rate credentials and findings when his paycheck isn’t funded by advertising sales from multinational wine conglomerates, who are using screwcap and plastic closures.

    Regarding the Life Cycle numbers related to cork Vs screwcaps, the data provided in the Amorim study did not include the carbon footprint numbers from the mining of Bauxite and the two processes involved in turning Bauxite into alumina and alumina into aluminum. The aluminum industry was unwilling to give those numbers to the research team.

    The mining of Bauxite and the chemical processing produce considerable amounts of greenhouse gasses, consume vast amounts of energy and produce highly toxic by-products that have a significant negative affect on our planet and its inhabitants. All of this information can be easily obtained from credible scientific research websites.

    As for failure rates being unacceptable in any other agricultural industry, that’s just not the case. A recent USDA study showed that in the apple industry alone, spoilage rates from fram to retailer and then to consumer were close to 40%.

    In closing, when will the wine world wake up to the fact that, both aluminum and plastic closures are not being recycled, that each have their own failure rates and both manufacturing processes poison our planet. If our soil and water are unfit to grow in or drink, there won’t be much chance for the grape. I’d like to hear from one winery owner who would be willing to have a Bauxite mine or a plastics processing plant open across from their vineyard.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      December 27, 2012

      Patrick
      I continue to be fascinated that people like you who speak so strongly for cork don’t talk about the quality of cork as a closure for wine–you go off on lots of tangential made up issues about alternative closures, most commonly the supposed carbon footprint of the manufacture of alternative closures. You don’t take into account the number of bottles spoiled by corks with TCA (or that let in too much oxygen), and the carbon footprint of that waste. And you make the point that aluminum and plastic closures are not being recycled, without admitting that they are fully capable of being recycled. It took awhile for other recyclable products to actually be recycled too, but they are very actively being recycled now.

      The fact is, virtually all liquids (medicines, soda, spirits) were bottled under corks 100 years ago. The failure rates were high for those other products, so they eliminated cork over time as alternatives were developed. Now virtually the only thing bottled under cork is wine, and the failure rate continues to be high. Alternatives are needed, many good ones have already been developed, and they are perfectly capable of being recycled once there’s enough of them to have that make sense economically. The time for continuing to bottle wine under cork is over.

      –Richard

    • December 28, 2012

      Patrick,

      My lord, do you actually believe the stuff you write? Or do you just do it because it is your job?

      Over the years I have learned that arguing things on the internet is about the least productive use of time ever – especially arguing with someone like Patrick.

      Let me just say this… If anyone reading this is inclined to take what Patrick has posted above seriously, please contact me. I can walk you through the details of his horses#!t. I can show you with third party references how almost all of what he wrote is demonstrably false.

      Patrick: Cork has some real advantages over other closures in it’s traditional appeal, and the ceremony associated with it, and the consumer’s association of cork with fine wine. Those advantages are real and are not disputed.

      Let me urge you to stick to reality and advocate for cork based on those facts, and desist with the greenwashing, the distortions of the truth, and the outright lies.

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  1. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: The End of Cork
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