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Put a Cork (or Something Else) In It

Winemakers opt for alternatives to traditional cork to reduce the occurrence of corked wine.

For centuries, cork has reigned supreme as the closure of choice for bottled wine and there are many good reasons why. From the environmental (cork scored highest overall in a comparison of cork, metal and plastic closures) to the aesthetic (some people cannot move away from the romance and satisfaction the pop of a cork provides), the majority of winemakers worldwide still use this renewable resource as a means to close their bottles. So why do those in the minority choose an alternative to cork?

There is far more to making great wine than stomping on a bunch of grapes and letting the resultant mash sit and ferment (Lucy made it look simple enough). From the vineyards to the bottling, meticulous care is taken every step of the way to ensure the final product accurately represents the winemaker’s philosophy. However, the introduction of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA)  with a tainted cork can spoil all those efforts.

If you’ve ever popped a cork and were met with the mustiness of a damp basement instead of the aromatic bouquet you expected, you’ve opened a corked wine. While rates of bottles affected are relatively low, with claims ranging from under 2 to 7 per cent, winemakers who wish to avoid the introduction of TCA from corks are turning to alternatives such as glass stoppers or metal screw caps.

Northwest Totem Cellars touts the “green” aspects of the glass Vino-Seal on its website but the main influence on winemaker/owner Mike Sheridan was a desire to prevent his drinkers from having a disappointing experience.

“In my wine consumption, before I got into the winemaking part, the couple of times I had corked wines it was quite disappointing because two experiences were very prized bottles,” he said.

As he was getting into the winemaking business, he came across an article on the success of the Vino-Seal in Europe and at a winery in California, so he decided to test this new closure option. “Even though I already bought a corker, I sent away for a couple samples and liked it,” he said. Since then, all Northwest Totem Cellars red wines have been sealed with glass.

You may not see glass replacing cork on a large scale anytime soon. Unless the winery is willing to spend $60,000 on a machine that automates the process, each stopper must be inserted by hand. While having the machine would be nice, Mike notes that buying it would too drastically affect his bottom line and there are other things he’d spend the money on first.

Metal screw caps provide the same protection against TCA and oxidization as glass. And while corkscrews have undergone several design changes intended to simplify breaking into that bottle of wine, you can't deny how easy it is to unscrew a metal cap; bottles sealed with these caps are easier to bust into than a new jar of pickles.

Setting aside arguments about whether some oxygen transfer is necessary for the aging of bottled wine and how natural cork may allow for this while hermetically sealed bottles do not, the biggest aversion the public seems to have toward screw caps is their association with a cheap or inferior product.

“I chose natural cork since many consumers still equate screw caps and alternative cork products with lesser quality wines.  As a new winery, I didn't want to risk having that opinion of my wines, especially at the price points I have,” said Scott Greenberg, Convergence Zone Cellar’s owner/winemaker, who opts for a high quality cork.

However, Dusted Valley, the first Washington winery to use screw caps on all its wine, stands by its choice. Co-owners Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson believe the screw cap is the best option to preserve the integrity of the wine they produce and have replaced the phrase “pop the cork” with “crack that cap” around their winery.

As a consumer, you can do your part by becoming educated on what makes for a good quality wine and not judge it by its closure alone. You can also rest assured that winemakers and closure producers continue to fight the battle against cork taint in their efforts to supply you with the best they have to offer. Sure, there will be the occasional undrinkable bottle or the raised eyebrow of a skeptical guest as you nonchalantly unscrew the cap of the wine you’re about to pour. My suggestion is to simply enjoy any wine that tastes good and understand the nature of corked wine so that you may be more willing to give another bottle a chance at redemption.

Here’s Woodinville Patch’s Guide to this week’s events, June 3 – 9 

The Seattle Wine Awards have announced the 2011 winners and several Woodinville wineries brought home medals. Check out the results!

New Releases

  • Hollywood Hill Vineyard, 2010 Horse Heaven roussanne, 2008 Rattlesnake Hills syrah, 2008 Red Mountain syrah
  • Northwest Totem Cellars, Qo-né cabernet franc blend 

Special Events

Saturday, June 4

  • Chateau Ste. Michelle, 14111 NE 145th St., hosts The Moody Blues at the Chateau Amphitheater at 7 p.m. General admission tickets cost $45, reserved seating is $95 and tickets are available through Ticketmaster and at the Chateau Wine Shop daily, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Coming Soon 

  • Winemaster (and Brewmaster) Festival of Washington at the Red Hook Brewery grounds, 14300 NE 145th St., takes place on July 27 from 5 – 9 p.m. Tickets cost $49 and are on sale now. In addition to cheering on your favorite winemakers and brewmasters as they compete in the Winemaker Olympics, you’ll enjoy food from favorite gourmet food trucks and live music. This event raises funds for Heartbeat, serving wounded warriors.

Tasting Room Happenings

Month Long

  • continues to reward Passport to Woodinville holders with a special Midweek Boondoggle: Stop by with your passport, stamped or not, Wednesday – Thursday from noon – 5 p.m. to enjoy winery-only offerings on Dusted Valley.
  • has a big jar of corks in the tasting room and wants you to guess how many are in it. Stop in any day of the week to submit your entry; the closest guess wins a three-year vertical of the 2006, 2007 and not-yet-released 2008 claret. Must be 21 or older to participate.
  • is offering Merlot Vertical Gift Boxes, only 24 available, at a special price of $100, wine club members receive another 15 percent off. Included are the 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages.
  • Hollywood Schoolhouse Wineries J. Bookwalter, Mark Ryan Winery, Pepper Bridge Winery/Amavi Cellars and Ross Andrew Winery are hosting B.Y.O.P. (bring your own picnic, pork, party …) every Thursday in June from 4 – 8 p.m. The wineries will provide the grills and you’re encouraged to bring dinner that can be thrown on the barbie. No cost to attend; each winery will be pouring their latest releases which you can purchase by the flight, glass or bottle.
  • is beginning Summer Sundays; the tasting room will be open every Sunday in June from 1 – 4 p.m. and will feature the 2010 rosé, 2009 semillon and 2008 Sunrise.
  •  is hosting The Art of the Vine, vineyard art by local photographer Richard Duval through the end of the month beginning on Friday, June 4.

Friday, June 3

  • , 16116 140th Place NE, hosts Friday Night Live from 7 – 9 p.m. Gather your friends and head over to the tasting room for an evening of live music by local musician Kyle Stevens and enjoy glass pours starting at $6, including the recently released 2009 chardonnay and 2008 cabernet sauvignon.

Saturday, June 4

  • , 19501 144th Ave. NW, Suite D300, is pairing specialty cheeses with each wine served on Saturday and Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m. There is a $5 tasting fee per person.
  • , 14366 Woodinville-Redmond Road, is celebrating the release of its 2010 roussanne and two 2008 syrahs by paring them with gourmet snacks. Come try the new wines at the tasting house from noon – 5 p.m.
  • , 15810 NE 136th Place, is releasing the cabernet franc blend, Qo-né, and is offering it to you at the special price of $28, regularly $35, on Friday and Saturday, noon- 4 p.m. This is the only weekend in June the tasting room will be open.
  • , 19495 144th Ave. NE, Suite A120, is celebrating the Grand Opening of its tasting room with half-off tastings and complimentary nibbles on Saturday and Sunday from 1 – 6 p.m.

Sunday, June 5

  • , 14419 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE, is offering barrel samples at 2 p.m.

Wednesday, June 8

  • Isenhower Cellars, 15007 Woodinville-Redmond Road, is hosting an artist reception for photographer Steve Windell from 5:30 – 8 p.m. Enjoy complimentary wine tastings and snacks.

Thursday, June 9

  • , 15608 NE Woodinville-Duvall Place, is abandoning alliteration this week and hosts Wine Thursday from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. This week winemaker/owner of Ponum Cellars, Javier Alfonso will be pouring five wines, paired with great Italianissimo appetizers for $15.
Lance Ignon June 06, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Dear Willow, I think you've done a nice job of summarizing the closure issue. In all the research we've done, we've found that the incidence of TCA is actually 1-2%. This includes scientific studies, as opposed to people simply sniffing a wine, which can be misleading. And remember, TCA comes not only from cork but other sources, and screw-caps and plastic plugs have their own failure rates. There's more information on this subject at http://www.facebook.com/100PercentCork#!/100PercentCork?sk=app_23744633048. Best wishes, Lance Ignon 100% Cork

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