put a cork in it!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The cork lobby is at it again, launching a campaign with the snappy title “I Love Natural Cork,” asking consumers, as might a Bible-thumping preacher, to pledge their allegiance to the mighty cork.

According to an article posted on the Decanter website, the cork strokers are saying that “Natural cork in your wine bottle does more than just preserve and improve the quality and character of your wine. It preserves a centuries-long way of life in the rural communities of the Mediterranean cork oak forests, its incredible wildlife as well as the planet by absorbing CO2.” Somehow, they’ve inveigled Britain's Prince Charles into throwing his support behind such vague assertions.

Consumers are smarter than that. Consumers seek value, first and foremost. They don’t set out to destroy a “centuries-long way of life in the rural communities of the Mediterranean cork oak forests” (somehow, the phrase conjures up an image of a modern-day Robin Hood and his band of merry cork-heads, living a carefree life in the cork forest, subsisting on truffles and the odd bit of paté.) But consumers are not obligated, in any way, shape or form, to take the financial hit for a product with a failure rate as dismal as the cork industry.

Tradition be damned. I’m no cork expert, but are there not many other uses for cork besides wine enclosures? Cork floors, building materials, bulletin boards come to mind. Surely there are many others. And if not, how about putting the rural communities of the cork forests to work finding other uses and venues for selling their product?

The fact is, until viable alternative closures began appearing about ten years ago, the cork industry didn’t give a bunghole about fixing their problems. To this day, it is apparent to anyone who opens as many wine bottles as I do that there are vast differences in the quality of corks made available to wineries in this country, as opposed to wineries in Spain, Italy and France. You should see the stunningly perfect corks that come out of some of those wines!

I am not about to say that cork should vanish, or that screwcaps are always superior. And don’t get me started on ugly, impossible-to-remove plastic monstrosities. But throwing consumers to the PR wolves, and trying to guilt-trip them into using cork in order to preserve some mythical way of life, is embarrassing at best, and downright dishonest at worst. Decanter sums it up perfectly: “The [campaign’s] sentiments are as suspect as its syntax. It demonstrates once again that the cork industry’s grasp on the realities of public relations is as shaky as ever."


Anonymous said...

Give me liberty or give me screw cap, just don't give me a corked wine, double entendre intended. I am tired of taking back or, worse yet, simply tossing out wine with cork taint. I went through a particularly bad streak recently both with everyday wines and expensive wines that I had been holding for years. There is nothing more frustrating than going out to a special dinner, carefully selecting that wine I've been saving for a special event, only to find out it is corked. I've had enough corked wine to be pretty darn sensitive to even the slightest hint of it and it happens too darn often. Save the cork for my flooring.

Anonymous said...


1) It is possible to get good cork in the US if you are willing to pay for it. Know your supplier. Cheap usually translates to more corked bottles.

2) The cork forests are in fact the most endangered ecosystems in all of Europe. Certainly not a reason to put up with 5-10% corked bottles though.

Interesting article here:


Anonymous said...

Here, here! Have you ever experienced a corked wine with a screw cap? Ahh, me thinks you have.
If cork lover's (producers) cared, you would think they would clean up their stuff.

Anonymous said...

As a small winery owner I'm sticking with cork until they come up with a screw capping machine that is cheaper than $7000 (the cheapest one I could find). I'm not using plastic corks, yuck... Until there is some viable alternative for us wineries making small amounts of wine, we are kind of stuck!

Bob Neel said...

Sadly, we're in the same boat as small-winery 'Anonymous'. Still remember the pain of hand pulling and recorking our 1993 vintage when we were early adopters of Supreme Corq -- but they hadn't worked out the lubricant. (Have they yet?) Some better luck with Nomacorc, but we still use the real (?) deal. The corks we buy are the best available and cost more than the glass! Yet we still see 1/2% - 1% tainted bottles, the worst being those that are so subtle they merely flatten the wine. Looking for a cheap way to switch equipment, and mobile bottling lines aren't economic for small lots.

Co Dinn said...

Amen, Paul. The entire cork debacle of the last 30 years is a perfect case study in how not to respond to a quality control crisis. Denial, stonewalling, propaganda all topped with a healthy dose of hubris. If cork producers had truly addressed their problems they would not now be scrambling to deal with double-digit loss of market share. For those of us for whom quality is paramount, enough was finally enough. At one point a rational winemaker has to choose between quality and tradition.

PaulG said...

I was not aware that mobile bottling was not a good option for small wineries (or is it just small lots?). If anyone has a good idea for an economic, non-cork closure system, please share!

MagnumGourmet said...

With all that cheap volunteer labor out there (Pay'em lunch and a bottle of wine), why would you ever go for the mobile bottling line for runs under 1,000 cases?

A. Plymale said...

How about the Vino-Loks? (i.e., glass closures)

james said...

Well said Co, quality control is available to winemakers. Screwcapping machinery costs are comparable to corking machines so I don't understand the cost argument. We have been screwcapping since 2003 when our total production was under 2000 cases, sold our corker a few years later, and have never looked back. In addition, with a quick 5 minute modification it allows us to easily apply vino-lock glass stoppers and very cost effectively bottle small lots. Both the vino-lock and the screwcap are outperforming side-by-side trials using cork dating back over six years.

Co Dinn said...

Say one percent of all wine finished in cork is ruined by the cork. I am being generous as the number is actually higher. Consider the grapes, the glass, the labels, the capsules, the transportation wasted, not to mention the effort required to return a bad bottle. The contention that corks are greener than screwcaps is absurd given the damage to the product.

Anonymous said...

I know I am late to this...but have you ever seen how the bauxite they use to make screwcaps is mined? Might think twice about it if this was happening in your backyard or state!
There's a reason we do not do this type of mining in the US anymore. How about that enormous Orange Toxic sludge spill in Hungary last fall? That was purly and simply a result of bauxite smeltering and the tremendous amount of toxic sludge it produces. there are more costs than just an occasional off wine here.
Sure corks are not perfect, but then again, going to screwcaps brings a whole new set of challenges, from environmental to winemaking (reductive issues), to bottling issues to getting consumers comfortable taking pop bottle caps off of a wine bottle!

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