Screwcaps Vs. Tradition
Modern winemaking relies as much on tradition as it does on innovation. Without the latter, we’d still be selling fine Pinot in clay urns; without the former, we’d probably be drinking insipid wines made with poor technique. While tradition must be honored, it’s important to recognize when to move forward.
I get a lot of questions in the tasting room about our choice to utilize screwcaps. Most notably, a lot of folks are puzzled as to why we would bottle such fine wines with a topper that a couple of decades ago was associated with cheap, mass-produced wines. My answer is always two-fold: Science and Consistency.
A lot of innovation has occurred since the early days of the humble screw-cap closure. From the adaptation of corrosive-resistant metals to the implementation of porous membranes that allow the wine to “breathe,” decades of work in material chemistry have left us with a near-perfect closure in an industry obsessed with quality control. The biggest hurdle? Public perception. I believe this is merely the result of a disruption in an industry-standard that has stood for more than 400 years (as mass-produced cork became more available around the 1600s). Traditions don’t go down without a fight, however, and this is a prominent example. I’m sure that the first person to use a glass bottle instead of a small barrel to transport their wine was either seen as a plebeian or a genius. In concordance to the point that traditions die hard, it was made illegal to sell wine by the bottle in England, a law that stood until 1860.
When it comes to consistency, screwcaps are the way to go. Not only do they eliminate the risk of cork-taint, but research has shown that the porosity in corks can be wildly variant. As far as cellaring wines with screwcaps? Well, research on this has also shown that wines cellared with screwcaps age in the same manner as wines with cork closures. The only difference being that those with screwcaps will age more consistently and will not have cork taint. They can also be stored upright, without the danger of a cork drying up or breaking apart. Because of the natural variability in porosity, wines with cork closures can also suffer from premature oxidation, a problem that is not present in wines with screwcaps. Consistent oxygen transmission allows consistent aging, and screwcaps have been found time and time again to be the most reliable closures.
Just how reliable are they? I once heard our owner, Scott Shull, tell a private group that “we’ve produced something close to 1.8 million bottles with screwcaps, and of those, only two bottles have been sent back because of a flaw in the closure. That’s a one-in-a-million margin of error.” With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why whole regions, such as Australia and New Zealand, have adopted the technology.
With research becoming more accessible, and great wine producers embracing the technology, the association of screwcaps with quality and consistency isn’t too far behind. We can only hope, until then, that one day the sound of a screwcap crackling open will remind you of a wonderful, well-aged wine that you had from Raptor Ridge.
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About the author: Luiggi
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