California winemaker Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, has decided that it's time to take his critics at their word. Considered by many to be eccentric, if not a bit screwy, Grahm is shifting to screw-cap closures in defiance of prevalent industry wisdom.
Next month, Bonny Doon will use Stelvin brand screw caps to seal 80,000 cases of its Ca' del Solo Big House Red and White, which each retail for $10 per bottle. Over the next few years, the winery plans to shift to screw caps for the remainder of its 200,000-case annual production, which comprises more than 30 bottlings that range in price from $9 to $32.
"You'll see a transition in stages as we become confident that the consumer accepts them," said John Locke, director of public relations at Bonny Doon.
While a number of vintners in Australia, New Zealand, California and Oregon are trying out screw caps on select bottlings of small-production wines, Bonny Doon is the first major California estate to take the plunge for such a high-volume offering.
Grahm, who started his estate in 1983, decided to make the change after years of dissatisfaction with "corked" wines. Natural corks are often plagued by "cork taint," which, depending on its severity, can either subtly deaden flavors and aromas or ruin them altogether with nasty overtones of mold and must.
Although Bonny Doon currently bottles about 85 percent of its wines with synthetic stoppers, wines sealed with these alternative closures can be hampered by oxidation problems. Many winemakers and industry experts currently regard screw caps as the best option for preserving the freshness of wine. But fear remains that consumers will be put off by lingering associations with low-end jug wines.
Nonetheless, Locke believes that Bonny Doon customers are willing to look beyond image at the more substantive issue of quality. "I suspect our consumers are more likely to embrace innovative technology," he said. "Everybody [in the wine industry] is waiting for someone to jump in, and they'll jump in afterwards. The skinny on the street is a lot of people are looking into screw caps."
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