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Uh oh. Screwcaps Will Ruin the Planet.

WWF_logo.jpgExcuse me if I seem dazed, but I'm still in shock after reading that the World Wildlife Fund has actually made a public statement suggesting that winemakers should continue to use cork stoppers, if only for the good of the planet. I hope that made you do a double-take, too. Apparently not only do screwcaps fight cork taint, they also cause forest fires, economic depression, and harm endangered species. You always suspected that, didn't you?

Actually, to be more precise, the WWF suggests that a thriving cork industry prevents such things, by offering jobs to the locals, well maintained forests that don't burn and which provide homes for many endangered species.

All I've got to say is, those cork industry lobbyists must be really damn good.

How they managed to get an environmental organization to come out in favor of an industry that is just one notch away from the old rubber plantations in terms of its impact on the land boggles my mind. OK, I'll admit to knowing very little about cork production, so perhaps it's not so environmentally damaging as I may think, but for Pete's sake, it's an industry. There are thousands of people tromping through these forests with machetes all day long -- you can't expect me to believe that they're tiptoeing around sleeping lynx, eagles, and deer!

What's got the WWF (and the cork industry itself) so agitated is a recent study suggesting that in 7 years, 95% of all the wines in the world will be closed with some sort of alternative closure. While I jump for joy at such news (but which I think is a horribly unrealistic projection), the wine industry apparently makes up 70% of the total demand for cork, which means that if these numbers are right, the industry will, indeed, collapse.

To suggest such a collapse would ultimately be worse for the environment than if the industry thrived seems mighty odd. But the WWF claims on their web site that at least the industry is sustainable, and if you look at the energy required and byproducts of the manufacture of synthetic stoppers, cork looks better for the environment in the long term.

Which I guess means that all those companies out there who are looking for solutions to eliminate TCA from corks are actually saving the planet !

Read the full story.

Comments (24)

edward wrote:
07.14.06 at 1:41 PM

A few points:

Man planted most of the cork forests that are now in existance.

Cork trees will exist if we don't harvest the cork.

Forests can be protected by edict.

Screw caps can be recycled.

Surely there are other more pressing environmental issues in the world today. . .

Chief Wino wrote:
07.14.06 at 3:37 PM

I happen to agree with the WWF statement, and anyone who suggests that there are more pressing environmental issues in the world, is forgetting the fact that all environmental issues are interrelated.

While I admire the desire to eliminate TCA, in actual fact, TCA can is more rare than the average wine consumer realizes. "Corked" wine can also occur in the barrel again process, so changing to Stelvin closures will not really do much to assist with the situation. (See All about cork on GrapeRadio.com)

I usually enjoy these articles, but I have to admit, one should really do their homework before blasting off about things...unless you really like that egg on your face?

Respectfully yours,

Alder wrote:
07.14.06 at 3:44 PM

Dear Chief Wino,

Thanks for your comments. I pretty much have egg on my face all the time, so it doesn't really bother me to get some more.

Your opinions on the environmental question are valid and supportable. No contest there. But I'm curious about your claims regarding the rarity of TCA. While I am not an expert by any means, the fact that so many wineries want to move to alternative closures, despite broad consumer preference for cork means something. If TCA were as rare as you say it is, these wineries wouldn't budge from their use of cork. However, I believe that many of them can substantiate the fact that TCA ruins 6% to %10 of their product every year, resulting in non-insignificant costs to them.

Yes, TCA can come from more than cork, but it is there where it is most commonly found.

GregP wrote:
07.14.06 at 4:04 PM


Have not heard the GrapeRadio show on the subject yet, but can concur with you on the numbers. And in reality, I think the numbers reported are way too low to begin with, these are the numbers REPORTED by consumers and my observations tell me that MOST consumers wouldn't know TCA if it hit them on the head. I know winemakers who have difficulty picking out TCA. No insult intended to anyone, of course, but a simple fact of life. Most people taste the wine, think its "off" and never buy the wine again, a loss to both consumers and wineries.

To Chief Wino,

Are you saying that these same people who pop a bottle on their visit to a camping site are good enough to clean up all the soda cans, napkins, paper plates, plastic utensils, soiled diapers, wine bottles, whatever other garbage they might have created, but will ignore the screw caps? Really? Interesting logic, or rather lack of it, IMO.

boyd wrote:
07.14.06 at 5:03 PM

Quickly scanning through the WWF report I noticed that the report fails to mention the environmental and economic costs that a bottle incurred by a bottle of wine ruined by TCA from a defective cork. To mention a few there are the expenses of growing the grapes (fuel, land, water, labor, etc.), the making of the wines (crushing, cooling, yeast, barrels, labor), the packaging of the wines in labeled bottles, the marketing of the wines and finally the lost revenue due to a bad bottle.

If we want to throw some rough numbers at it:

Considering a winery intends to make 5000 cases of wine. If one anticipates that 4% of these bottles to be tainted by bad cork and the consumer only realizes the wine is tainted half the time (2% of total), and then of these people only half go to through the hassle of actually asking for a replacement bottle half the time (1% of total) then the winery is out 50 cases of product and 50 cases of lost revenue.

This translates to ~ 1 Tons of grapes, 2 barrels, 600 glass bottles, 600 corks, 600 labels not to mention the energy wasted, carbon dioxide produced and man hours wasted.

As far as TCA taint coming from sources other than corks and corks being unfairly blamed as the chief implies. Many wineries have begun to check their wines for TCA prior to bottling in for at least two reasons, to avoid bottling wines with TCA and to clearly place the blame on the cork manufacturer if after bottling TCA is found.

Ryan Opaz wrote:
07.15.06 at 2:28 AM

Cork forests are protected well by the cork production, though I don't think we need to use dried out tree bark for our wines. Cork floors are growing popularity, not to mention all the other things that cork as helped with. Cork is something that needs to be looked at as old technology that needs an upgrade when it comes to wine. The cork industry has to stop attacking screwtops, any sane person knows they are just fine for wine. Instead or spending tons of money to lobby that screw caps are bad and that all wildlife will die in Porutgal if we drink a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in Screw cap - they should be spending that money to eliminate cork taint.

07.15.06 at 7:31 AM

Dear all, I read you from Spain and I write to you from Spain. You very well know that the biggest cork forests are in Portugal (center and south) and Spain (southwest and northeast), the so called Iberian Peninsula. I know the problem, because I know the industry and just three days before, I wrote something about TCA in my spanish blog (you are kindly invite to participate there, in english, in spanish, in spanglish: important is to communicate between the two countries). Just to resume: the most important thing af all concerning "brett" and TCA contamination and cork forests and harvest IS TO REJECT DOGMATISMS, and to know and accept facts. In Spain, the studies in industries and universities say that NOT LESS than 5% of the opened bottles appair with TCA. This is due to three main reasons, in order from more to less frequency: contamination by TCP in cork forests (impossible to eliminate in twenty years!); lack of salubrity in cork industries: in the process of harvesting, in the months the cork stays on ground in the forest, after harvest; and in the fabric itself; and third (BUT it exists!), lack of hygiene in the wineries (certainly, TCA exists without touching cork!). And I can only say that in Spain the wineries are really conscious of the hygiene's importance!
Second important thing: The use of cork or of other systems to preserve wine and close bottles belong NOT just to the oenologic domain, but to the economic one too and to the marketing one. But they are wines perfectly vinified and prepared to be preserved by screw caps (those to be drank in a year, for instance; or the jerez and manzanilla wines, which for years and years appair in the market with screw caps: the biological vinification by the "velo en flor" allows that!), and others prepared to be preserved only by best quality cork of 54 mm.
And a final remark: if we could find good quality cork at a good prize (this means well paid too!) and if the contamination by TCP in forests did not exist, I'm absolutely certain that we were not discussing about screw caps or cork or...
All the best from Spain

oldwino wrote:
07.15.06 at 8:36 AM

what we are seeing here is an industry who realizes its days are numbered and is fighting back with a massive PR campaign to slow its own, enevitable death.
TCA (from corks) do taint 2-5 % of all wines, plus corks alter the flavor of another 10% or so of wines.
Screwcaps do not.
Every cork is different - cork is an organic product (in the true sense of the word). Every cork in a bag of 1000 is an "individual". Very inconsistant! Some provide a great seal with the bottle, some do not.
Every screwcap, assuming the application machinery is set up properly, is the same. No bottle to bottle variation. Same seal every time. And that seal is, as studies demonstrate, equal the the very best cork. That 1-in-a-thousand cork.
Try this: grab a case of wine (cork sealed), especially a vintage with a few years of age on it, and start popping bottles. Marvel at the differences in each one! You've statistically got a 50-50 chance of getting a TCA tainted bottle and even a better chance to have some "off" flavors from a cork or two.
As a winemaker, I find the stance re corks of some of my colleges rather weak, ethically. I cannot understand how we, as an industry, can put so much effort into our wines and then package them and sell them to Joe and Jane Consumer KNOWING that some of that product will be bad!
Screwcaps work. They do what cork is supposed to do, every time on every bottle. That's good for the consumer AND the wineries.

07.16.06 at 5:05 AM

I do not belong to the cork industry, nor I have conomic interests on it; I rather belong just to the part of that people trying to find pleasure from wine and food and other interesting things in live. But I'm also (in my "public" life) a scientist, and I very much appreciate the commentaries comming from the daily experienci with wine, such as this from "Oldwino". I confess I dont' know the type of wines your winery produces, but as I have said before, screwcaps belong, as far as I know, to the domain of wines to be consummed within the first two-three years after production.
I'm sure, as far as I'm sure that wooden chips produce not the same effect on wine as barrels do, that the oxygene within the bottle works with the wine NOT in the same way with a screwcap that it works with a good cork cap.
I'm sure that the evolution it's not the same (say in a frame of ten years) with a screwcap and I'm sure that if the corks is a good one, the evolution (always with a wine conceived and produced to be drank after long stay in the cellar) is better with cork than with a screwcap.
In my experience, certainly not as a winemaker, but ony as a consummer, this is a matter of facts, not of oppinion.
BUT, I can only say that I'm absolutely open to know new facts which can change my impressions.
All the best,

Ryan Opaz wrote:
07.16.06 at 8:02 AM

Joan your statement: "but as I have said before, screwcaps belong, as far as I know, to the domain of wines to be consummed within the first two-three years after production." is correct though I think it could be said for wines between 5-10 years of age. Either way this accounts for 95% more or less of all wine produced. Thus most wines should not be in cork but rather in "alternate" enclosures. If we had this balance the 5% of wine that deserved a cork, would be given only the best corks and TCA taint would drop significantly.

Alder wrote:
07.16.06 at 9:17 AM


Actually, experiments have been conducted to show that there is no significant advantage or qualitative improvement in oxygen development of the wine between corks and screwcaps over the course of at least 4 years

Here's the study: http://www.winepressnw.com/news/story/5269477p-5206013c.html

I think most people still cling to the notion that longer aging requires corks, but there is no real evidence for that, except for the fact that no one has tried it yet, and as a scientist you know that hardly proves the case.

Anonymous wrote:
07.16.06 at 9:19 AM

I absolutely agree with your statement, Ryan. I think good cork at a reasonable prize for the producer has to be preserved for long-term wines. And other preservation systems, as screwcaps, can be used by other types of wine, as for instance in Spain, rosés and white wines not touched by wood, jerez and manzanilla wines. This is not a matter of romanticism: I love the "noise" cork cap produces when I open an interesting red or white wine, but I'm sure that screwcaps are a good system, too, for a certain numbers of wines for which cork system is not necessary.

Anonymous wrote:
07.16.06 at 9:56 AM

Yes, Alder, I have read through this paper and certainly you are right. But,
please, note that the sudy has been conducted by a winery whic uses screw
caps, first, and second, I have not been infoemed in this study about the
type of cork used or its quality. I (we, sorry, have) been informed only
about the probems produced by TCA. My only real statement is: IF we use
first quality cork NOT contaminated in the forest, well harvested and
efficiently preserved; if we do that in a winery with all the hygienic
mesures and ventilation procedures to avoid humidities and if we preserve a
wine produced with the goal to be matured in the bottle (you very well know
what kind of vinification I'm talking about) with this cork (and all these
mesures are not contained in the minutes of Hogue cellar), I'm absolutely
sure (certain only as an hypothesis!, because I have never conducted such a
study) that "cork" wines will be better preserved, will have a richer
flavours and bouquets "landscape", usw usf. And why this? Because so far as
I know, screw caps produces in the bottle an atmosphere which can only use
(for the final microoxygenation of the wine and its polimerization -if this
is the english word!, please, excuse me if not!-) the oxygen within the
bottle, whereas cork caps allow these two final processes witin the bottle
and, in a minimun but existing %, with the cellar atmosphere.
All the best,

Alder wrote:
07.16.06 at 10:07 AM


Actually Hogue cellars had only experimented with screwcaps before conducting this study. They were not using them regularly until the results of this study came out.

To your second point, I have to make it clear that there is NO study on Earth which proves the (widely held) theory that corks allow oxygen into the bottle.

Also the polymerization of wine does not require oxygen as far as I know.

oldwino wrote:
07.16.06 at 10:31 AM

To Ryan,

The problem with using corks for those 5% of wines which deserve them is this: The rate of TCA is the same in corks which cost $0.50 and which cost $2.00. And the variability rate (in terms of permeability) is probably the same. So using the so-called "best corks" gives you as winemaker nothing but a ligher wallet. And you as consumer the same risk.

Imagine this: Wine is a late 20th century invention (invented by Steve Jobs at Apple). Do you really think anyone today would consider using a piece of tree bark as a closure? Steve Jobs would use the newest, most consistant and most user friendly closure he could find!

Re: aging under screwcaps - all the studies I have read seem to indicate that almost all problems with reduction have been traced back to winemaking issues and not the closure. Wines will age more slowly and more consistently under screwcap. Or as one australian winemaker put it, "like under the very best possible cork".

Anonymous wrote:
07.16.06 at 10:44 AM

Dear Alder, this is a really interesting "conversation" held, as far as I know, by NOT professionals. But I'm sure (because I read your comments!) you have a solid formation. which is perhaps not my case. But, I have formated myself tasting, reading and travelling, and, from my abolutely Amateurism and selfmade-oeonology, I can say to the statement "there is NO study on Earth which proves the (widely held) theory that corks allow oxygen into the bottle", that Prof.Émile Peynaud (I have studied with his handbooks) says.
that "penetration of oxygen into the bottle is produced ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY between cap and glass" ("almost exclusively" means that there's not a 100% exclusivity), but it exists because oxygen can cross over 2000 couchs of stagnant cells.
Your second statement "the polymerization of wine does not require oxygen as far as I know": this depends upon what you want your wine to be, if they're very tanic or not, and the kind of tanins you want. But polymers and its length (and this means its smoothness) always depends upon the control and regulation of wine and oxygen contact.

St.Vini wrote:
07.17.06 at 12:52 PM

Wow, what a great discussion. I too am concerned about politicizing this issue (Catalan wineries are now required to use cork) and would rather see this type of discussion than the former.

I did, however, find this comment from Joan to be odd: "But I'm also (in my "public" life) a scientist....I'm sure that the evolution it's not the same (say in a frame of ten years) with a screwcap and I'm sure that if the corks is a good one, the evolution (always with a wine conceived and produced to be drank after long stay in the cellar) is better with cork than with a screwcap."

Being "sure" based on a series of guesses and assumptions is not really science, is it Joan?

Let's let the actual studies decide if screwcaps are as good or better at aging wine than cork. Let's not lower ourselves to "trial by assumption".


Anonymous wrote:
07.17.06 at 2:00 PM

Dear St.Vini,
as a scientist, I'm only sure that my hypothesis is that suggested in my previous post. It is true that without facts and certainties muy hypothesis will never be a thesis. But I'm still sure about what I have written, certainly as an hypothesis. And at the end of this process, with all the studies on the table, I'll be delighted if I have to recognize that muy hypothesis was wrong and that another thesis can be sustained by facts. That's science, yes it is.
But let us not forget Einstein's most impressive statement (to me, at least): the most important thing is to have ideas and intuition, science will follow.

Marco wrote:
07.23.06 at 2:33 PM

The decision to use a cork or a screwcap should be left to the winery or winemaker. The same way a consumer is free to decide if the wine he/she buys needs to be bottled with a cork or with a screwcap.

For me, as a consumer, I will never buy a bottle of wine with a screwcap, even if I'm told that this is an excellent wine. I'm aware that one in twenty bottles that I buy will be bad. That's a risk that I'm willing to accept, maybe because I'm in the category of people who rarely spends more than $20 for a bottle of wine. For me, the wine experience starts with the opening of the bottle and I don't want to hear a "swish" when I open my bottle (a la coke bottle), I want to hear a "PLOC!". These comments might sound stuburn, antiquated and stupid, but that's just a "feeling" which I don't never want to let go of. PLOC! :-)

Alder wrote:
07.23.06 at 2:47 PM

Thanks for your comments Marco.

You're absolutely entitled to whatever romance you have with the cork and there are many people who feel this way, both wine novices and experienced drinkers alike.

I think, however, you'll find you're increasingly missing out on some great wines, as more and more winemakers do the math and realize they can sell better wines and lose less money by using screwcaps. In a few years you'll be hard pressed to find a single white wine from New Zealand sealed with a cork. It will be a shame if you decide not to sample them, but it's definitely your choice, and a perfectly valid one.

Jeremy wrote:
07.24.06 at 8:42 AM

I'm a bit late to this one....

So from my perspective as a winemaker and brand owner, I want there to be an alternative to cork that doesn't come with its own set of troubles. If that is the screw cap, great!

However, I am going to need to see significant and independant long-term studies, and while they may be going on, the results certainly haven't really hit our industry yet.

When I first began making wine and researching packaging, more than a few people were touting synthetics. And during a conversation with a fellow winemaker last year, he said, "You know, synthetics are made from the same material that those pool toys (the long colorful styrefoam-looking things) are made of. And any manufacturer will tell you that they begin to disintegrate in under ten years."

The other aspect of long-term studies is who will be performing them. If I get a long-term study sponsored by either the cork companies or the screw cap manufacturers, I'm not going to trust it. And as a small winemaker with a limited budget, I don't have the resources to conduct my own. I'm guessing that the larger wine companies (Constellation, for example) are conducting studies, and am anxiously waiting to see the closures that Constellation puts on it's super premium brands over the next five to ten years.

It boils down to this for me. I don't have consumers yelling at me about corks. I don't have retailers or restaurants yelling at me about corks. These are my customers, and if they're happy, I'm happy. Most of the screw caps vs. cork debate is coming out of the glossies, which I don't put much stock into anyway as far as they relate to the average consumer.

Also, if I have to choose between the devil I know and the devil I don't. I'm going with familliar Satan.

Take care all. Always a good discussion on here.


Sondra wrote:
02.19.07 at 6:55 PM

Hi all,
I'm coming to this discussion way late prodded by my need to know about sustainability and wine. I had understood, as Joan talked about, that screw caps are great for a few years in the bottle. Oxygen is needed for improvement in the long run and studies show that consumers still prefer corks to any other closures. Now here's my question, are caps other than natural cork allowed for organic wines? And what of the sustainability issue - metal, plastic, etc, landfil, with the other closures? It would seem a contradiction to the growing trend towards sustainable wineries while using closures that damage the environment. But since I am just beginning to research these issues I'd love to hear other educated opinions. Thanks and let's not get screwed if not necessary.

Mike M wrote:
03.10.10 at 4:10 AM

This would be the same WWF who thinks limiting CO2 - the primary gas on this planet, the one gas that plants absolutely need to survive, the gas that has been PROVEN to benefit almost all plants if increased 3 to 4 times what it is now, the gas that, even if it caused global warming will result in more species via tropical expansion (are there more species in Costa Rica or in Alaska?)- will somehow be 'good' for wildlife?

They are no longer an organization about nature and wildlife.

I'm not sure why but this website is loading incredibly slow for me.
Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end?

I'll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

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