You might think there's a bit of a theme to my recent blogs - and you'd be right. Not only do I like a glass of wine, I also come from a high end hospitality background where fine wine was the DNA of the business. So, as a 'mainstream' wine consumer who buys her plonk from the local supermarket, but appreciates fine wines as well, I find myself intrigued by the psychology and technology involved.
Which brings me to my current question. Ask a sommelier or wine enthusiast for their preference and it will likely be cork. Ask a wine producer and they’ll say screwcap. Ask the mass market – and they probably won’t notice until they struggle to remove it or transport it once opened.
There’s been a debate for years over which is the optimum wine enclosure.
Traditional cork varies in porous-ness (as natural products are wont to do), and the chemical process used to treat it can cause an adverse reaction with the wine*. As a result, wine producers have steadily moved over to synthetics and screwcaps in recent years to avoid the ‘unacceptable’** failure rate experienced with cork.
Decanter.com, the wine website, claims that screwcaps are indeed the optimum enclosure in terms of retaining freshness, and the industry eagerly awaits results in 2013 from a study conducted by the University of California which scientifically compares enclosures like for like in terms of impact on colour, flavour and aroma, and which will likely settle the debate once and for all.
So, already armed with fairly compelling evidence that screwcaps are better, why use cork at all?
Environmentalists have recently entered the debate in a big way – cork production is more environmentally friendly than synthetic, and many US producers are keen to differentiate themselves on green credentials. That's a decent, and for some, on-brand reason.
However, those in the industry admit that the screwcap is better, and yet seem to favour cork as part of the whole wine experience – and this is key.
Desk research indicates that newer enclosures simply don’t have any emotional connection with drinkers. While descriptors such as ‘romance’ and ‘mystique’ could be found in the cork debate, all talk of synthetics and screwcaps was strictly functional. Moreover, their adoption by new world wineries and cheaper bottles generates inferior conceptualizations for traditionalists.
Commercially, this may seem a moot point – as mentioned earlier, the mass market appear indifferent – but what if the enclosure was the last 5% that rounded off the total product and brand experience? It certainly is for connoisseurs, hence their loud voices in the debate.
So much of the romance and mystique surrounding cork is connected to the serve experience, where skilful removal of the cork with corkscrew and considered assessment of colour and aroma are part of the performance.
So, it appears in my opinion, that an opportunity exists for manufacturers of screwcap enclosures to work with winemakers and sommeliers on a screw enclosure that retains some element of this performance or creates a unique new experience – thus satisfying winemakers, sommeliers and drinkers.
Vicki Hamilton is Associate Director, Marketing Communications at MMR
* TCA or trichloroamisole – better known as ‘corking’ [FYI, this is not where you get a bit of cork in your drink]
**various sources suggest it’s around 1% of all bottles produced