Cork in Europe, screwcap in the US

by Eve Resnick on July 31, 2009

in General

It’s one of those minor (or major?) cultural differences that makes being a marketer such a pleasure. In France, Marquès de Cacérès sells its Rosé 2008 with a synthetic cork – just for the pleasure of hearing the little noise when opening the bottle. In the US, the same bottle is sold with a screwcap. What does it tell us, marketers? Americans are practical people: this wine is made to be drunk within the summer. Why bother with a cork? A screwcap makes the opening much easier and you can bring the bottle to a picnic or a barbecue without bringing a cork opener.

What does it mean for a winery? We all heard about the controversy of cork vs. screw cap for wines with ageing potential. I’m talking here about wines for everyday consumption – wines that could – and should – be drunk within a few months of their bottling. Are there any advantages for the winery to switch to screw caps? In some ways there are: Screw caps are cheaper – once the bottling line cost has been swallowed. Aluminium screw caps are recyclable and there is a security to avoid tampering with the bottle: the “Roll On Tamper Evident” (ROTE), which is the tiny metal “bridges” connecting the top of the screw cap to the body and making a distinctive “click” noise when the screw cap is opened, proving its integrity.

In spite of their advantages, screw caps are still not welcome in traditional Europe where consumers link wine and cork. They are associated with cheap and bad table wines when in the New World (US, Australia, New Zealand) they are common because consumers just hate the cork taint. European consumers consider the taint as part of the wine culture: it is unavoidable but rare in high quality wines – therefore their high level of tolerance for the problem.

In conclusion is there a real debate on screw cap vs. cork? Maybe not: it’s more a cultural debate on tradition vs. innovation.

{ 3 comments }

1 Anonymous August 8, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I do consider the opposite after a couple of years in the wine business. In the begginng of this century, Nick Room, after his experience buying for a reknowned UK retail chain, said the screwcap was the future for wine. Selling screwcap in UK, Holland or Belgium is pretty easy, so Villa Maria of New Zealand drops alternative closures forever. On the contrary, I still see companies that satisfied with screwcap results (technically-wise speaking), prefer to stick to other closures just to keep the market they have in US and Brazil.

I see that US is a great market and will, in many senses, be ahead the tradicional French one. That fact is not enough to put it on the farefront. I would love hearing what the UK big buyers, journalists and masters of wine should say after reading your note.

Tomas

2 Anonymous August 12, 2009 at 6:35 pm

Evelyne,
Cork is still very much the closure of choice in the US. In fact, the preference for natural cork as a wine closure in the US was underlined recently by two new studies as well as the outstanding success of a cork-sealed New Zealand wine in this market. One consumer study suggested that 71 per cent of US consumers prefer natural cork. For more information visit http://www.corkfacts.com.

3 Evelyne Resnick August 13, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Thanks for the link to corkfacts.com. I didn't find the consumer studies you mentioned. I'd be happy to read them and complete my post on the subject. Corks and screwcaps are a controversial but fascinating subject as for their economic impact on cork producing countries.

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