I've been around long enough to know a leading question when I see one, but this one took me aback it was so breathtaking. It was on an e-mail survey purporting to ask about consumer attitudes about cork vs. other wine bottle closures. It said: "What do you like most about cork over synthetic and screw cap closures?"
The only answers possible were "a. The tradition of opening a cork – the sound and smell of the cork, b. The performance of cork for aging wines, c. The fact that cork is a sustainable product, d. The consumer appeal of cork, and e. All of the above."
In logic class, this was called the "When did you stop beating your wife?" question. There should have been a prerequisite question, such as "Do you prefer cork over synthetic closures"? Besides, you couldn't answer "none of the above." Without those options, the results are tainted by improper prompting.
It wouldn't matter, except that the same folks who sent out this survey conducted one last December and trumpeted the results to the wine industry. In a speech, the head of the PR agency that did the survey reportedly said that 94 percent of Wine Spectator readers prefer cork closures. We have asked our readers about their preferences several times, and never got a figure that high. However, the press release for the cork industry's survey says that 94 percent of their respondents agreed that screwcap closures "cheapened" a bottle of wine. Maybe that's where the number came from. Even there, most of the responses were "sometimes," not "often" or "always."
There were some bizarre results in that survey. Members of the trade reported that few customers ever return a bottle of wine. Some 41 percent said once a month, and 25 percent said once a week. Astoundingly, almost 6 percent said they had never had a customer send back a wine.
(That should be a red flag for the wine industry. If so few people recognize cork taint, then they think those funky smells are what the wine should be. They may not return the bottle, but they won't buy the wine again.)
Of 23 questions on the new survey, eight ask about the advantages of cork. Only one asks if "non-cork closures" might be better than cork. Note: not screwcaps over cork, but a generic term that includes artificial cork-like substances. Two other questions ask again if screw-caps cheapen a bottle of wine.
It looks to me as if the cork folks have cobbled up misleading questions to get the results they want. They know that they don't have a logical leg to stand on. Screwcaps simply do a better job of protecting a bottle of wine, and people are figuring that out.
In the industry's survey conducted last December, 42.6 percent of respondents said they preferred screwcaps to corks. Five years ago, I'll bet that number would have been in single digits. Today? Maybe a majority. No wonder the cork industry is desperate.
Scott David — September 13, 2006 2:05pm ET
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