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Delhi Wine Club
USA Wineries Increase Use of Cork

Posted: Friday, 08 October 2010 11:36

USA Wineries Increase Use of Cork

It may be too early for cork manufacturers to uncork the bottle of Champagne to celebrate a positive trend in the use of cork closures, but a study conducted by AC Nielsen for Cork Quality Council indicates that the premium domestic US wineries are increasing their use of cork closures, with brands using cork showing higher annual sales growth over those using alternative closures.

According to the data released recently by the CQC, out of 100 top selling wine brands, the number of brands using cork closures rose to 72 during the past five months, registering an increase of 7.5%. These brands using cork as the closure also posted an average annual sales increase of 10.2 %, compared to annual growth of 3.7 % for alternative closures majority of which are screw-caps.

Peter Weber, executive director of CQC anticipates a continuation of this trend as more wineries recognize that consumers prefer natural cork. ‘More wineries are likely to switch back to natural cork as a way to promote sustainable practices’, he says.

The CQC study focused on the top 100 selling wine brands priced at over $6 a bottle and was confined to supermarket sales and did not include on-premise activity or sales from smaller wine shops. The top 100 Brands include the majority of wine brands that use alternative wine closures.

Cork made from the cork oak trees a majority of which are in Mediterranean cork oak forests, especially in Portugal, is recyclable, and biodegradable. The cork producers claim that the alternative closures like metal screw caps and plastic stoppers produce 10-24 times more greenhouse gases and consume as much as five times more non-renewable energy than real cork over their life-cycles, citing a peer-reviewed study by Price Waterhouse Coopers.
However, cork can also be the perpetrator of what is known as cork taint in a wine bottle. The chief cause of cork taint is the presence of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) in the wine, which in many cases might be transferred from the cork or sometimes even through it. Though harmless, corked wine has a characteristic odour, generally described as resembling a moldy newspaper, wet dog or damp cloth and reduces the natural aromas of wine which becomes rather unpalatable.

About 2-7% wines using cork closures tend to be corked, the number being higher for cheaper corks, though the cork manufacturers dispute these figures especially since the quality measures taken by the industry have brought the figures considerably down. Although New Zealand and Australia are avid users of screwcaps and seem unstoppable, the trend shown by the study on the US wineries may be a good sign that the producers are becoming more positive about the use of cork, especially for wines costing more than $9 on the shelf.

A look at the survey indicates that the maximum use of alternative closures is in the $6-9 range- whereas 16 producers use cork, 15 are still using screwcaps (more than half of screwcap users are in this category). The figure may be skewed in favour of the latter but the survey has been perhaps commissioned to focus on premium wines which tend to favour the cork due to the uncertainty in the ageing potential of wines using alternative closures.

The Cork Quality Council is a non-profit group organized to improve quality assurance programs for its membership which comprises of the big guns of the cork industry - Amorim Cork America, Cork Supply USA, Ganau America, Juvenal Direct, Lafitte Cork & Capsule, M.A.Silva Corks USA, Portocork and Scott Laboratories and thus structured  to help cork producers in their marketing clout.

Translated to the Indian industry, the finding of this survey  would indicate that the   wineries making the Reserve range of wines, especially reds, would shy away from screwcaps and stick with quality corks. Currently Dindori made by Sula is perhaps the only premium wine using screwcap.

Soon-to-be-launched in Delhi, the Seagram's Nine Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are also in screwcaps.


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