Cork vs. Screw Cap debate goes environmental

This week’s wine news delivered news related to the $22 million marketing campaign by the cork industry.  The first, a press release from 100%Cork.org, boasted the sharp rise of fans on their Facebook page – over 15,000 – confirming their preference for natural
cork.

Second story I read, from the Telegraph in the UK, touted the end of cork forests and the destruction of the Iberian Lynx due to consumers’ use of screw cap (and plastic closures) over natural cork. They also claimed that the consumer’s desire for convenience has led to the rise of screw caps and plastic closures rather than the fact that cork can be a faulty closure (more on that later). 

I was a bit surprised to read these as I figured when the cork industry decided to fight back, they would herald new industry practices to reduce the occurance of cork taint. Yet neither talked about that as a reason to prefer cork… instead they told consumers to demand natural cork in order to save the Iberian lynx… wait, what? 

The first article, from the UK’s Telegraph, is titled: “Screw cap wine blamed for loss of forest in new campaign to revive traditional cork,” with a sub-heading claiming “The fashion for screw cap wines among the middle classes is destroying forests and could lead the to the extinction of one of the world’s rarest wildcats, ecologists claim.” Um, can you say scare tactic? I am all in favor of preserving the environment, and I would be happy to continue to purchase wines with corks (which I do when I have to), but I’m certainly not going to demand the closure until something is done to fix the problem of cork taint.

I know that corks are take less energy to produce, are much easier to recycle, are biodegradable and are much more earth friendly. I am also aware that cork forests are integral to natural wildlife and I have no wish contribute to their destruction. But being told that buying a bottle of wine in a screw cap is in fact doing just that… well, it’s just plain dumb. Dr. Vino’s blog yesterday pointed out this fact in a much more amusing way…

The emergence of screw caps on quality wine was a result of poor quality corks and the prevalence of TCA, or cork taint. Some say that the movement to screw caps started in Australia and New Zealand because, as the newer wine regions, they were getting the bottom-of-the-barrel corks and had more issues with TCA. Whatever the reason, the screw cap was widely adopted by winemakers wishing to preserve their wine, and has increasingly been embraced by the consumer. And I seriously doubt, as the UK article claims, that they embraced it only for convenience sake. 

If you look at the numbers, the cork industry claims TCA is in 1-2 percent of all corks, while other estimates range from 1 to 15 percent. Percentages are hard to garner, too, since individual thresholds for TCA vary. My husband and I are very sensitive to cork taint and sadly find that about one out of every 12 bottles we open is corked. That’s one bottle per case. Not all consumers find this, often because they are unable to detect a corked wine – cork taint is a continuum, and at its lowest, the wine can just be muted rather than smelly, and customers may just think they are drinking a mediocre bottle of wine. Winemakers and wineries fed up with the consumer not receiving the product they had put in the bottle turned to alternative closures.

Now, I am NOT a fan of synthetic corks. And I know screw caps have their own issues, but what other industry do you know that allows an average 5% (and I’m figuring low here in my experience) failure in its products? When you purchase your wine, you should be assured that what you are getting is what the winemaker or winery intends for you to have. I realize that wine is a living thing and it evolves and changes in the bottle. But changes that come from a cork do not always improve the wine. Sometimes they destroy it.

I am a supporter of being green and doing our part to protect the environment and wildlife, but am disappointed at the cork industry’s method of promoting their product. Instead of warning consumers that they are destroying an ecosystem when choosing wines not finished in natural cork, how about telling us what strides they’ve made in fixing the TCA problem. Work on that first. Then we can move on to save the earth.