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August 15, 2011

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I definitely respect this decision - it's a way to save money and help the environment. However, unsurprising, as I really respect Heron Hill, as a whole. :)

On a selfish note, it's a lot easier to preserve my "pop and drink" wine over the course of a few days! I'm glad they'll still be using the corks on "the good stuff," and reserving the screwcaps for the "pop and drink" wine - the right way to do it!

"...it's a way to save money and help the environment."

It is important to understand that these are significant fringe benefits. The number one reason most fine wine producers are switching to screw caps is to improve wine quality. The use of natural cork carries with it the risk of cork taint which can ruin the wine. Alternative closures such as screw caps eliminate that risk and allow winemakers to guarantee a higher level of quality.

Kareem (and, I would hope, to the folks from Heron Hill) -

What do you make of Heron Hill's decision to stay with corks for their finer wines?

And what do you make of these comments by writer / critic John Gilman, made to DrVino.com on the subject of screwcaps? --

"In my opinion, the closure is fatally flawed as it is used today, and I find it inexcusable for so many winemakers and winery owners to try and sweep the flaws under the rug instead of ‘fessing up that they were screwed by the early propaganda and half-assed research- that the screwcap technology is still not ready to gracefully age wines- and switch back completely to corks until a time when the alternatives are really ready. Instead, we have all this “copper fining” BS- adding heavy metals to the wines so that they can use a flawed closure system is in my opinion just asinine and ethically bankrupt- and every other sort of winemaking manipulation ever conceived by man to try and get the wines ready to seal up under screwcap. Of course the jury is still out on whether or not adding huge doses of copper sulphate to the wines pre-bottling is safe for those consuming the wines, but I for one am not about to be the guinea pig on that score."

Kareem and Evan, as noted in the article above, I think the screwcap IS a better option (both for the fringe benefits and otherwise) for wines that are not necessarily meant to age (hence my use of the term, "pop and drink", which is probably what most people drink on a regular basis). For wines that are meant for aging, I think true cork is the best bet - yes, there is a risk of cork taint, but it is minimal, and worth it given the returns.

Having said that, I am a fan of the synthetic corks. There are flaws to this method as well, however they do allow for aging and some breathing.

I am totally sick of FL wines showing premature oxidation due to the synthetic corks used by so many producers. The winemakers using screwcaps may need to adjust their winemaking a bit to avoid reduction (e.g. take it easy on the SO2) but I think what Heron Hill is doing is the right approach.

While I applaud the efforts of quality wine producers such as Paumanok and Heron Hill - they are two of my favorite NY wines - I profoundly disagree with some of the comments made here. For one, it is clearly debatable whether or not screw caps are in fact "better for the environment." The processing and use of aluminum screwcaps has already been shown to have a larger carbon footprint than that of natural cork. Several studies have already gone over this issue and can be read here:

http://winegaggle.destinybaywine.com/2011/01/22/devastating-results-for-screw-caps/

http://www.wine-business-international.com/156-bWVtb2lyX2lkPTIwNSZtZW51ZV9jYXRfaWQ9--en-magazine-magazine_detail.html

More importantly, natural cork is a renewable resource that provides an agricultural economy for many Mediterranean countries that covers almost 2.3 million hectares of forested land. Portugal in particular has been the leader in the sustainable development of the industry, implementing important reforestation projects - the current rate of reforestation being estimated at 10,000 hectares per year. This keeps many thousands of families employed in agriculture and provides an important ecological benefit to the region as well as to the rest of the world. Most would agree that the more land we can keep under trees the better off all of us will be. In my opinion this makes natural cork the most sustainable closure I can use - something which is very important to me.

In regards to wine quality, with all due respect, screwcaps do not in my opinion "guarantee a higher level of quality" any more or less than corks do. The producer, vineyard, and climate as well as the passion and dedication of ownership, vineyard management and the winemaking team are what makes for quality wine. A wine that is insipid, uninteresting or flawed will remain that way regardless of the closure. What screwcaps will do is reduce the chance that a bottle will be spoiled by TCA. This is a very good thing, however it is also well documented that TCA can contaminate wines in the cellar prior to bottling as well. As screwcaps become more widely used we are already seeing some of the other potential problems associated with them that the article Evan pointed out alluded to - the instance of sulfide production in the bottle and the more recent studies showing that some of the plastics used in the liners of the caps may absorb aroma and/or flavors over a long period of time. As with most things in life, nothing is perfect.

Over the past 30 years I've seen a huge increase in the quality of corks - no doubt the market pressure from screwcaps and synthetic closures have forced the cork producers to raise their game and improve their product. Cork companies are now more adept than ever at removing potential problems from production using techniques such as steam and UV light treatments to reduce and sometimes eliminate the potential for TCA contamination. I expect the science around this issue to get even better as time goes on.

Yes you guessed it - I am a natural cork devotee - but my main point here is that there is no perfect closure. Wine continues to age and develop at some level no matter how we package it. Regardless of the closure, the finest wines will be made from the best and most dedicated producers. I look forward to drinking more of these wines from two such dedicated and quality minded producers like Paumanok and Heron Hill. At the same time, I also believe that the best decision for the wines that I make will be to use natural cork.

This whole discussion interests me greatly. I remember being told (forget by whom) that screwcaps were the superior closure, but that consumer prejudice against them prevented many wineries from adopting them. The true picture is clearly much more complicated.
After reading the post and comments, I have two questions for whoever has the time and inclination to respond. First, how widely held is John Ingle's view that natural cork gives quality wine a significantly greater opportunity to develop? Second, what do others think of the glass closures that Heart and Hands uses for its pinot noir?

Evan

Re: John Gilman

As far as I know copper sulfate is regularly used on wines under every closure. The risk is too great for any large production winery to not treat a wine that has off aromas due to H2S.

I don't think winemakers are leaving H2S aromas in their wines with the rationalization that they will gradually blow off with the use of natural closures.

Wines I have drunk over many vintages have consistently declined in quality when they changed to screw caps. In particular they have lost complexity and interest. The cause could either be that the wine fails to develop with the different closure, or that the winery opts to make the wine differently. I have no way of knowing that.

I have also had to send back spoiled wine where the screw top closure failed.

Massoud above quotes the closure salesman's line accurately, but experience proves that statement untrue!

As a consumer, I have to quarrel with wineries who chose screw tops. My practical response is simple. I can buy one of the several hundred similar wines with corks.

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