Closures: Part 3 – moving back to cork
In contrast to yesterday’s views from Domaine Laroche, today we hear from a winemaker who has ditched screwcap in favour of cork after problems with the former closure.
Despite sealing its other nine labels from Rusden Wines in the Barossa under cork, Christian Canute, winemaker and director at the family-run business, decided in 2005 to close its Driftsand Grenache and Shiraz blend with screwcap.
However, after four years of using screwcaps, he changed his mind, and hence the Driftsand 2010 vintage, which is due for release in October this year, will be closed with natural cork.
“I wasn’t happy with how the wines bottled under screwcap had been ageing,” he says. “Our wines are handmade and bottled without fining or filtration, and under a screwcap I have noticed the wines seem to sweat – producing overly dominant reductive characters, a problem we have never had under cork.”
Although he says that this “blows off after a few hours in a decanter”, Canute became concerned that customers were drinking Driftsand immediately after opening, while sommeliers in the Australian restaurant trade had been recounting incidences of “reductive, sweaty characters, and a great deal of bottle variation, particularly in our last vintage, 2009”.
Canute explains that he considered employing sterile filtration and copper additions to clean the wines up prior to bottling, but as Rusden is renowned for its traditional approach to winemaking and minimal use of additives, that is something he will not change.
He adds, interestingly: “I am aware that there are other winemakers out there unhappy with how their wines have aged under screwcap, but many would feel unsure about the market perception of moving back to cork, as there has been so much negative press, predominantly in Australia, in regards to the use of cork.
“Any winemaker should be able to have the choice of using the closure they see as best for their product without negativity surrounding their decision.”
And in any case, “Why are we as an industry trying to sell ‘screwcap’ over and above ‘Australian Wine’?”
Nevertheless, Canute believes that there is room for a variety of closures, just as there is room for a variety of wine styles.
As for the choice of cork source, Canute favours Portugal, and stresses that Rusden has opted for Amorim.
He explains: “Cork companies would admit they have made mistakes in the past, sending us poor quality cork, particularly in the early 2000s. I know they are trying to make up for that in a big way, and Amorim has spent millions of dollars on improving cork recently and I am completely confident in their product.
“The proof is in the pudding; TCA is so rare in our last two vintages that I am happy to open samples in front of my customers again.”
Finally, he notes that while cork’s sustainability “is a beautiful thing”, his decision to return to cork is purely based on technical performance.
As noted in yesterday’s piece, 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, along with views from a range of closure manufacturers.