Joining a growing number of wineries in Australia and New Zealand, the Orlando Wyndham Group, producer of Australia's Jacob's Creek and Wyndham Estate brands, has decided to give screw caps a spin on some of its Riesling bottlings.
Orlando's 2001 Richmond Grove Clare Valley Watervale Riesling, which is sold only in Australia, will be topped with metal closures instead of traditional corks -- the first time the company has committed to using screw caps on an entire line. In addition, screw caps will be placed on a portion of the 2001 Jacob's Creek Riesling Reserve, for the Australian market only. If all goes well, Orlando, which produces more than 10 million cases per year, may eventually bottle more of its wines with screw-cap closures.
"Ideally, we'd want to extend to our other whites and maybe even reds," said Sam Kurtz, a senior winemaker for Orlando. "I'm a strong advocate of it, but there is still a little fear on the part of consumers."
Wine drinkers often associate screw caps with inexpensive, low-quality wines. But many winemakers believe that screw caps better preserve the freshness of their fine wines than natural corks, since they provide a tighter seal against oxidation.
Screw caps may also reduce the common problem of "cork taint" -- musty aromas and flavors that are caused by the chemical trichloroanisole, or TCA. The chemical is most often linked to flawed corks, though it can develop in other products used in wineries.
Kurtz said he believes that consumers are slowly becoming more receptive to the idea of screw caps on wine. During the past two years, Orlando has tested the waters by putting screwcaps on a portion of some its small-production Riesling bottlings, and Australian consumers have purchased them without resistance. Orlando is producing 9,000 cases of the 2001 Watervale Riesling, which is priced between 15 and 18 Australian dollars per bottle ($7.75 to $9.25).
The company's decision, Kurtz said, can be traced back to the 1970s, when another Australian winery introduced a line of Rieslings with screw caps. It was a commercial failure, he said, "but years later, people who had them in the cellars found that the wine was drinking superbly." This, along with last year's screw-cap venture by 15 fellow Australian Riesling producers, motivated Kurtz to push for the metal tops on Orlando's Rieslings.
"We are hopeful that once consumers at the premium and superpremium price points for Riesling are accepting of the closure," said Kurtz, "that we will be able to broaden our approach to include other varieties, lower price points and overseas markets."
Read past articles about cork taint and alternative wine-closures: