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.

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