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Snooth User: EMark

Cork Discussion Continues

Posted by EMark, Dec 9, 2011.

Over the past few months, there have been several conversations on cork vs. alternative closures.  Rather than dig up one of those and append to it, I am starting a new one.

I stumbled onto this article by a lady named Rebecca Gibb, today.  It states that the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) "has passed a resolution recognising the role of natural cork closures in reducing greenhouse gases."  Their argument seems to be based on the preservation of oak cork forests in the Mediterranean basin.  A topic that was discussed on the Snooth forum a few months ago.

I've never heard of the OIV, but according to this Wikipedia entry, it is "is an intergovernmental organisation which deals with technical and scientific aspects of viticulture and winemaking."  So, I don't think it is just a marketing arm of the French wine/grape industry.

In all honesty, I, personally, really like the screwcap closures.  I love the ease and convenience being able to pull a bottle out and opening it without going to the drawer for a necessary tool (or two--I also have one of those cutters for the capsule), or not having to worry about bringing a corkscrew if we go out on a picnic.  I do have a problem with those plastic abominations that also require a courkscrew.  I toss them in with our recyclables.  So, I sure hope that they are recyclable.   I think the consensus opinion is that ageworthy wines do better with cork.  Clearly, my feet are firmly in both camps.

That being said, I do agree with the importance of maintaining the cork forests.  So, are these forests at risk because of declining demand for cork closures?  I hope not. 



Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Dec 9, 2011.

I think the cork industry would easily find alternate, albeit less profitable uses for their production.

The issue of cork taint is one that is to big for me to ignore, not to mention the inherently inconsistant nature of corks, to be entirely supportive of corks as the 'best' closure. If you really are for redusing greenhouses gasses you should be promoting bag in box or keg wines, which have a much smaller carbon footprint that is dependant on their shipping distances.

I can't believe any agency can really make such a brosd receommendation on anything but political grounds.  I'll look into the matter and see what I can dig up, but count me firmly in the camp for the use of alternative closure for less expensive, or early consumption wines. I am a big fan of the glass vino-lok as opposed to screwcaps.

Reply by EMark, Dec 10, 2011.

I've heard that the vino-loks are very effective and are reusable.  I've also heard that a number of Oregon wineries are using them.  I have yet, though, found one to try out.

Reply by dmcker, Dec 10, 2011.

This is a topic that's been flogged to death in the past, EMark, but Snooth doesn't make it easy to continue forum discussions over time, so nothing wrong with bringing it up now.

I'm with Greg in the glass closure camp. I do still love the feel and smell of real cork, though, and don't mind throwbacks to an earlier era in this day and age. I despise Stelvins, because I think we'll find evidence down the line of problems with their coatings, plus I've seen too many cuts from them (only one on me but several on others). And of course there's an instinctive gut reaction from my past when early in their introduction they were used on wino brownbaggers only. Plastic corks definitely blow, but they don't feel any 'cheaper' to me than metal twistcaps.

Let's see what others have to say. Too bad Stephen Harvey isn't showing up here anymore... ;-)

Reply by outthere, Dec 10, 2011.

I'm mixed on the whole thing. I really don't mind screwcaps on wines not meant for cellaring and I have had plenty recently. I'm kind of a throwback guy when it comes to fine wines and the cork closure always lends to the intrigue of what the next bottle will bring. +3 hating the plastic corks. Carbon footprint? I drive a diesel truck.

Reply by GregT, Dec 10, 2011.

I've posted my thoughts elsewhere on the site too, but I'm in complete agreement with Greg DP.  I've worked with government too long to imagine that this is anything other than typical posturing by some organization.  The way it usually works is you take a position and then you find arguments to bolster it.  Plausibility helps.

The idea that there are 100,000 jobs associated is nonsense. If they cared, they'd mandate that all wine had to be loaded by hand. No forklifts to be used at any winery. No pallets unless they were hand loaded and unloaded. No shipping by container. No automatic corking machines!  Every cork should be hand inserted.  Just imagine all the jobs that would be created!! And I'm absolutely certain that there would be plenty of French people lining up to take those high-paying glamorous jobs.

I'm another one who loves glass closures.  And, unlike cork, glass can be melted down and used again.

I don't mind screwcaps at all, but I"m willing to listen to arguments about the liners. Other than that, there is ZERO romance involved in pulling out a cork. It's an idiotic closure to be using in the age of the iPad. But then, I guess most of the romantics don't use iPads either. They write their messages with quill pens and send them by mounted couriers. That preserves jobs and would be a principled and consistent approach.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 10, 2011.

Funny you bring up Stephen Harvey D, I thought he was going to hunt me down when I explained the reasons why some wine regions may have sought for alternative closure options.Harder to get in South America, New Zealand, and the Germans didn't want to pay for something they didn't have to.

Just to refresh, the cork is the only way to allow the wine to slowly oxidize?

Why isn't the glass closure more widely used?

Reply by dmcker, Dec 10, 2011.

Not too surprising that the two people here who pull the most corks on a daily basis are against corks!  ;-)  And I assume one basis for Stephen H's stance, were he here to take it, are the statistics about tainted corks and their damaging effects on bottles--he does come from an accounting background, after all.

I don't open anywhere near as many bottles, so like outthere am somewhat pulled into a different frame of mind by the mystique as the cork is withdrawn. I use plenty of iPads and iPhones and ranges of other computing devices daily, but don't want my wine industrial. It's a step at that point of the day directly against such efficiency (yeah, I know there's plenty of that in the production and distribution chains for most of the wines I drink, just not at the table in front of me). Hell, I even enjoy cars that don't have chips in them, or minimal control anyway. Daily driving is a 2001 Saab 9000 Turbo Talladega package (just about the last year before GM design decisions ruined that tradition) with chips but not as many as later in the decade. For a car that can carry a lot of stuff it's still fun, and though it still has computer control it's hard enough to find parts for it, much less something from previous decades. For personal fun with minimal passengers I do, however, go a lot further back. No such pleasure from current Audi or similar models, even if they go faster. Still not at the point where slower is better than faster, but aesthetics do count.

Your point about political decision-making processes, Greg, is, however, well taken and agree on from over here. Managing realms of interest is definitely what politics is, and commerce certainly drives a lot of politics. How many lawyers/lobbyists (of whatever shape and ilk) and publicists are there in D.C.? How about NYC or Paris or London or...? Obviously some politicals in Portugal are wanting to play the game, too.

Reply by CageyT, Dec 11, 2011.
Edited Dec 11, 2011

My feelings about the romance/nostalgia/aesthetic aspects re cork are known by some of the regulars here.  I like cork closures, old double guns, pre-60's tractors, wooden boats, bamboo flyrods, and so-forth.  I am not alone in that camp, though I recognize it is an aesthetic position (not business, not industry, and arguably not quality focused, unless the quality of wine experiences take in to account the aesthetic, which is the case for me).

 There is a real scientific biological diversity discussion going on right now regarding cork, mahagony, and other renewable resources that is hard to ignore.  See for one example.

Often, in discussions like the one linked above, the politicization of the science becomes the focus of the discussion, instead of the science itself. I agree that the subject of cork closures is politicized, but I do not agree that politicized subjects are to be avoided or glibly dismissed, simply because they have become politicized. The tendancy to slip from habitat preservation/biodiversity conservation into a different subject around carbon footprints and recyclying is also notable, in both the political banter and the snooth banter.

I would like to see a rigorous discussion that included (perhaps an article ?) the merits of cork closures for the wine industry in one column, the merits of cork production (wine closures and other- labor and other socio-economic) in another, the merits of cork forest ecosystems for biodiversity conservation in a third, the merits of cork forest ecosystems for reduction of green house gases in a fourth,  and so on.  I will ask around among my colleagues here at Cornell to see if there is interest in such an article-- it would need authors from a number of different fields (wine scientists, ecologists, climatologists, closure experts, economists).  If any of you think this is an interesting idea, chime in and I will use this and other discussions re cork as justification to bring such a group of authors together.

Reply by EMark, Dec 11, 2011.

Corks are recyclable.  There is a company in Missouri that makes bulletin boards, shoe soles, building materials, etc. from them.  Cuvaison winery in Napa Valley cooperates with this company.

It would be nice to get an "apples to apples" comparison as Cagey is suggesting.  I wonder, however, if such a comparison would end up being more an "apples to carburetors" comparison. 

Let's ignore my negativity.  Just becuase it's hard is no reason to not continue the search.

Reply by GregT, Dec 11, 2011.

Guys - those cork forests are not "natural" any more than the cornfields in Kansas. In Michigan, there are a lot of whitetail deer that like the cleared areas where people grow pumpkins, beans, corn, etc.  Those areas used to be covered with white pine but those trees were cut down to build homes and rebuild Chicago after the fire.  If demand for cork went down, what would happen to the cork forests?  They'd go back to nature, improving the ecosystem.

I don't get the aesthetics of cork.  I'm completely mystified by the idea that cork is somehow intrinsically attractive.  And I should say that I've done a bit of woodworking - I have about 50 types of wood in my house that I've used for flooring, including reclaimed railroad ties from the Asian rain forests. The only reason that cork is used today is because the material science of the seventeenth century had nothing better.

Jon -

Just to refresh, the cork is the only way to allow the wine to slowly oxidize?

Why isn't the glass closure more widely used?

Cork is not the only way to allow the wine to slowly oxididize. Plastic for example, can be made permeable.  Contact lenses are. It's possible to make things that allow a small transmission of air - the key is to know how much is optimum. And after all these years, nobody has a clue.  And BTW - the slow oxidation is NOT because air is sucked through the cork.

Glass closures are still "new".  The wine business is hyper conservative. So even though there are better canopy systems, better trellising systems, etc. than those commonly used, you don't see them all that often. Not to mention, the glass closure is something adopted by the Germans. The French are the pre-eminent wine producing country in the world.  And the French are struggling to remain influential. There's no way in hell they're going to acknowledge one more thing that Germans do better. In Spain, they mandated cork in some regions. Does anyone believe they did that because it's inherently better?  Really?

Reply by dmcker, Dec 11, 2011.

Again, Greg, your points are well taken on the history of agricultural/industrial/commercial societies, as well as political currents through them.

Cagey, I think you're on to something with your idea of a comprehensive article or omnibus of articles on all those factors you've mentioned. Obviously no one has put such together up to now, and obviously there is an interest in the subject in wine industry, political and consumer circles, as we've been saying as we flog the immobile (at least on Snooth) horse. Keep us posted, and here's hoping something authoritative results!

And you should probably have someone tackle the aesthtetic side, too, even if GregT is too wrapped up in the practicalities of business processes to be able to enjoy it!  ;-)

Reply by EMark, Dec 21, 2011.

I am resurrecting this thread because I learned about another stopper alternative, today.  I really don't know the name of it, but Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot gives a pretty strong testimonial in this YouTube video.

All I know about it is what is in the video.  It is a multiple element synthetic closure whose main advantage seems to be that it does allow slow oxygenation of the bottled wine.  Standard cork opening devices can be used to remove this new stopper, and it can be reinserted into the bottle after opening.  Unit price is less than that of the natural corks that Ponsot has moved from.  The downside is that equipment currently used by bottlers cannot be used.  Ponsot says that he engages a company with mobile equipment to come to his site to facilitate.   

Reply by Kenchenin, Dec 22, 2011.

All the talk of cork being there to provide the slow oxygenation of wine....really??? C'mon people, the cork is simply a closure and in its day (which has since passed!) it was a very good idea, cork has a great "memory" you compress it into the bottle and it attempts to get back to its original form due to the complex nature of the cell structure and each cell as we know contains oxygen. Now with approx 20 million cells in an average cork (see how light it is) that's rather a lot of oxygen, which will bleed slowly into the wine and is evidenced by the ingression of the wine into the cork, something has to come out for the wine to go in! Yup?

So winemakers for a very long time have been adjusting their final free SO2 levels just prior to bottling, and one of the main reasons is to PROTECT the wine from the oxygen plug called a cork. So the free SO2 slowly binds with the oxygen that comes out of the cork and in doing so releases the esters and flavenols of the wine, making the wine appear oxydized and gently aged, yes the oxydation has helped to rid the wine of the free SO2 that was put there to protect the wine against the cork. (and then you still have to deal with the 5-8% of your prized and cherished wine that is totally destroyed by the TCA14 or inconsistent cork!!)

There really is some crazy logic in there, bottling with modern, scientifically calibrated, reliable, efficient screw closures we use half of the free SO2 at bottling, now please tell me one more time about the romance of the cork.

Reply by EMark, Dec 22, 2011.

Ken, thanks for your contribution.  It was clearly delivered with passion.  It seems to me that what you are saying is that by adjusting the chemistry of the wine before it's bottled, it does not matter what kind of closure is used.  Do I have it?

I think 100% of the contributors here on Snooth agree that cork has its weaknesses, and the TCA thing leads the list.  Most are very interested in learning about the best alternative to what we know is a flawed solution.

I, and a lot of other Snoothers, like screw caps.  My current feeling is that screw caps is an excellent solutions for wines that are not really age-worthy.  I love twisting off the cap on a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and pouring it into my glass.  Are you saying that a screw cap on a DRC is appropriate, if the winemaker adjusts the chemistry?  If that is the case, then I might have reason to cheer, but, of course, it will take a lot of convincing to win over the minds of winemakers with literally thousands of years of tradition to buck.  The reason I posted the link in my previous post because it showed a very respected Burgundy house that was moving away from cork.  And, yes, their solution does maintain the romance of the cork removal ceremony.

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