Wednesday, March 16, 2005

16 March 2005 - Corks Again...

The talk about corks, and their replacements, is intensifying. I've stated the case for screw caps here before, but I've read more, and perhaps more important, I've started asking wine makers themselves. Big wineries can change bottling lines, and bottles, faster than their smaller counterparts because they can more easily absorb the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars it requires. The little guys with little pocket books want to be sure that when they make such an expensive change it will be the right change for the long term. Since other types of closures are being tested now that it is generally accepted that natural cork is not the best bet, they want to be sure another type of closure doesn't pop up that blows screw caps off the table as the best alternative. Even the natural cork manufacturers are diversifying, opening screw cap divisions, alternative material divisions. Change is in the air, but the small wineries want to be sure they make a change that will last.

Through all the controversy, I still think about this: Cork taint is not a new phenomenon. While the actual scientific causes might be recently discovered, the cork itself has been recognized as a culprit for decades. Even now that new research has revealed that wood and paper products can also produce the dreaded TCA, that didn't let cork off the hook, it just added to the list of culprits. What were the cork manufacturers doing all that time? Were they always working on ways to make cork TCA-free? Or is their reaction to the problem too little, too late?

As I was discussing this issue with a young winemaker from Oregon this week, and he was criticizing screw caps and talking about other alternatives and clearly worrying about how to pay for potential bottling line changes, two of the first three bottles he opened were corked. I might have been glad that the problem was so vividly illustrated at so propitious a time, I couldn't help feeling sympathy for his situation. We did agree that regardless of what we end up closing our bottles of wine with ten years from now, it'll be better for this current storm of controversy.


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