Screw caps are continuing to gain popularity with North American vintners, who are embracing the closure as a taint-proof alternative to natural cork.
Whitehall Lane Winery in Napa Valley, known for its high-end Cabernet Sauvignon, will release 1,800 screw-capped half-bottles of its 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, at $22 each, in May. The release is a test run, and winemaker Dean Sylvester will track the aging process in the half-bottles to see how it is affected by the Stelvin closure. "As a winemaker, I'm excited to see how the wine evolves," Sylvester said.
Whitehall Lane plans to use screw caps on future 750ml bottlings, beginning with its 2004 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and 2002 Bommarito Cabernet Sauvignon.
While New Zealand and Australia producers were quick to endorse screw caps on fine wines, North American producers have been more cautious about making the switch to twist-offs. PlumpJack was the first California luxury brand to call the traditional cork stopper déclassé, when it topped half of its 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with screw caps and charged an extra $10 per bottle for the controversial closure. Bonny Doon was the first large-volume U.S. producer to do the twist, when it released 80,000 cases of screw-capped Ca' del Solo in 2002. Other notable wineries have followed suit, including Sonoma-Cutrer, Downing Family Vineyards and Beringer Blass in California, and Argyle in Oregon.
In Michigan, St. Julian recently became the state's first winery to use screw caps. It recently topped 2,000 cases each of its Blue Heron, Simply White and Simply Red wines -- all proprietary blends priced at $6.50 per bottle -- with screw caps, and plans on switching its entire production of the three wines to the new closure.
"It's impossible to ignore the improvement in quality that screw caps bring," said Chas Catherman, St. Julian's executive vice president. "No other industry that has a three to five percent failure rate considers that acceptable," he added, referring to cork-topped wines.
In Canada, the Vintners Quality Alliance Ontario (VQA) announced last week that it will allow Ontario wine producers to begin using screw caps at their discretion. "We recognize that screw cap technology is now proven to be an effective closure for preserving quality wines," said VQA president Len Pennachetti in a statement. "Both consumers and the wine trade are more readily accepting screw caps as a quality closure and we don't want to restrict wineries from seeking alternatives to the traditional closures as long as wine quality is not jeopardized."
The Ontario VQA's decision follows similar action from the British Columbia VQA last July.
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