Closures: Part 2 – in praise of screwcaps11th September, 2012 by Patrick Schmitt
Following yesterday’s story about Château Margaux, today we look at what motivated one Chablis domaine to adopt screwcaps over 10 years ago, and why it’s extending their use to elsewhere.
In 2001 Domaine Laroche in Chablis became the first Burgundian producer to switch to screwcaps, even for its grand cru wines. At the time Michel Laroche said the move was motivated by problems with the natural cork supplied to his winery, commenting that as much as 10% of his wines from the 2000 vintage were affected by closure-related problems, whether that was TCA or so-called random oxidation.
Speaking last month to the winery’s technical director, Grégory Viennois (pictured, left), it’s clear Viennois believes the decision to switch to screwcaps for the Domaine Laroche wines from Petit Chablis to grand cru, was the right one.
Looking back, Viennois says: “At the time Michel Laroche had to move quickly to retain reliability in the wine, including premier and grand cru, and screwcap was the most reliable closure at that time for all his wines.”
Nowadays, he says that screwcap not only offers consistency, but also, notably, less penetration of oxygen through the closure compared to natural cork.
As a result, Laroche is able to reduce the amount of sulphur dioxide added as an anti-oxidant before bottling. Viennois says: “And it is an aim at Domaine Laroche to reduce the amount of total sulphur dioxide in the wines.”
The domaine uses a Saranex-lined screwcap, which has a higher oxygen permeability than the Saratin-lined option, although Viennois insists that the oxygen ingression is very light, but enough to help the wine breathe.
He also says that Laroche hasn’t suffered problems with reduction on its wines bottled under screwcap: “It’s not a problem we have, but mastering the level of sulphur dioxide before bottling is so important,” he explains, although the use of a screwcap with a more permeable liner may also help in avoiding this issue.
Laroche has just repackaged its wines from its property in the Languedoc, Mas La Chevalière, and has used screwcaps across the range. Viennois points out that the switch is not a problem for reds such as Grenache and Pinot Noir, but is more difficult for Syrah. The latter is highly reductive, but also, he says, “screwcaps can make the tannin quite harsh.”
Explaining his decision to not only stick with screwcap, but also extend its use to Laroche properties, he says, “The most appropriate closure is the one which will respect the wine, and at the moment, the screwcap is the best option for whites.”
This profile is an extract from a longer article in the August edition of the drinks business which considered three winemakers and their closure choices, as well as the results of an experiment by Paul Pontallier at Château Margaux.