Great wines are like great stories: They can be complex, unpredictable, unexpected. The taste of a great wine can change dramatically with different wines or wine accessories. You never know what you’re going to get, and that’s what makes it so interesting. But when it comes to wine, there are no hard-and-fast rules. That’s why we have a new series (and you guessed it, VinePair is the expert), where you ask me a wine question and I try to give you an answer. The best part? It’s anonymous, so you can ask me anything. I’ll be answering all of your questions in a weekly series we call…you guessed it… Ask the Expert.
Natural cork, plastic or screw cap – do wine boxes matter? Jim Bernau, founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards, makes the case for cork in today’s Ask the Expert!
It’s time again for another episode of Ask the Expert, and today we invited founder and winemaker Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards, one of our favorite pinot noir producers! Jim is here to defend natural corks. Stay tuned for our next episode where we invite an expert to defend screw caps!
Do wine cabinets make a difference? The case for natural stoppers
Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley VIards
Winemakers must consider wine quality, cost, consumer convenience and planetary health when deciding on the type of bottle body.
As wine producers face rising domestic costs and fierce competition from more industrial producers on bottle prices, many are turning to unnatural casings and cutting their costs in half by switching to plastic or aluminum screw caps.
Natural cork of high quality, cut from renewable bark of cork oak, or pressed technical versions offer a better wine quality thanks to a faster seal during pouring, the prevention of oxygen loss due to a slow plastic closure and an aging advantage over aluminum capsules that can lead to the development of extra-aromatic anaerobic processes in the screw cap cork bottle.
Consumers concerned about endocrine disruptors that may leak from the plastic avoid these boxes for this reason and because of the premature oxidation that may occur. Consumers, bartenders and restaurant owners looking for convenience are switching to aluminum screw caps. But should they? Cost savings are not usually passed on by manufacturers.
Using a corkscrew is one of the easiest ways to protect our planet from air pollution, chlorinated water, cleaning products, cardboard boxes, pallets, etc.
The natural savannas of cork oaks in the Mediterranean and North Africa are among the most important biospheres on the planet after the Amazon. These millions of acres of cork oaks extract carbon from the air and extract oxygen. Hundreds of farming communities have been tending these trees for hundreds of years, harvesting the bark every nine years. These trees and communities are now under threat as wine producers and consumers resort to unsustainable crops.
The World Wildlife Fund is sounding the alarm as these trees lose their financial protectors and many species lose their habitat, including the endangered Iberian lynx.
A few years ago, winemakers had good reason to look for alternatives to cork because some corks had been poorly treated, causing a naturally occurring atmospheric fungus to pick up three molecules of chlorine from the air pollutants deposited on the bark of the cork oak (as well as in the winery from chlorinated water, detergents, cardboard, pallets, and so on). While this is still an issue in some wineries, these high-quality natural cork manufacturers offer corks that are guaranteed TCA-free: Amorim, cork supplier and manufacturer of microagglomerates Diam.
We are aware that high quality natural corks cost twice as much, and we ask all consumers to support winemakers with their purchases so they can return to the only sustainable choice.
Thanks again to founder and winemaker Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards for his answer to this question: Do wine cabinets make a difference?
Are you looking for answers to your burning questions? You can read the entire Ask the Expert series here!
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