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Kiwis spread the screwcap gospel

A group of evangelical New Zealanders is preaching the message that screwcaps are best – and they're hoping to get the French on side.

The New Zealand Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative is a coalition of some 30 wineries, including top names such as Cloudy Bay, Felton Road, Villa Maria and Jackson Estate. With the motto, ‘We’ve screwed ’em!’ the producers are promoting screwcaps as the best possible way of sealing not only white but red wine as well.

Jackson Estate is putting 100% of its wines – including Pinot Noirs – into screwcap bottles. ‘We’ve had a lot of interest,’ managing director John Stichbury told decanter.com, ‘especially from smaller Bordeaux wineries.’

Most winemakers agree that screwcap is perfectly good for whites, and reds that are meant to be drunk young. Some, like Stichbury and John Hancock of Trinity Hill, are convinced anaerobic ageing under screwcap is more reliable than under cork. ‘I am more convinced by reds than whites,’ said Stichbury. Hancock – one of the great evangelists as far as screwcap is concerned – said he reckoned that 75% of wine was affected adversely in some way by cork. ‘Only a professional would pick up most of that – but it shows how much cork changes the wine,’ he said.

The example of Bordeaux First Growth Château Haut-Brion’s experiment in the 1970s, when a hundred bottles were put in screwcap, is often cited. According to manager Jean-Bernard Delmas, it worked perfectly for the first ten years, until the plastic in the caps went brittle and let air in.

‘For 10 years there was no difference whatsoever between the bottles with screwcaps and those with corks,’ he said.

But he won’t repeat the experiment. ‘People expect to see Mouton-Cadet with a screwcap, not Haut-Brion.’ He agreed that it was the public’s response rather than the science of screwcaps that was the big problem.

Edward Berry of Cloudy Bay concurred. ‘Aesthetics and education are the problem,’ he said. ‘Screwcaps are not beautiful – people enjoy the culture of cork.’

And he added that until the French were on board, screwcaps were unlikely to take off. ‘If it’s about education, you can’t rely on a handful of producers from Marlborough and Clare (in Australia). There has to be European – particularly French – involvement.’

Written by Adam Lechmere30 May 2002

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