Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, one of California's best-known Chardonnay brands, will use a screw-cap closure on its top-of-the-line Founder's Reserve Chardonnay, beginning with the 1999 vintage.
The Sonoma County winery joins a growing list of producers around the world that are experimenting with the use of screw caps on premium wines.
"I think it's the best closure for the preservation of wine," said Terry Adams, winemaker for Sonoma-Cutrer.
Like many winemakers, Adams said, he has been increasingly frustrated by corks tainted with trichloroanisole, or TCA, which imparts a moldy aroma and flavor to wines and can also simply suppress their fresh-fruit qualities.
"If I have a 1 1/2 percent failure rate with cork taint, I'm losing 20,000 bottles," Adams said. "I'm looking for an alternative and one that will hold up for 10 years at least. I've tried synthetic corks, and I'm not convinced they hold up. In the research we've done with screw tops, they have performed over the long haul."
While consumers have long associated screw caps with cheap jug wines, high-end wineries have been slowly flirting with their use. Last year, Napa Valley winery PlumpJack released half of its 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve with screw caps. Australian brands Jacob's Creek and Wyndham Estate recently began limited use, following last year's initiative by a group of Australian Riesling producers. And a group of top New Zealand wineries -- including Goldwater Estate, Giesen Wine Estate and Kim Crawford -- started a major push earlier this year to champion the use of screw caps.
Sonoma-Cutrer has been producing the Founder's Reserve since 1981; in the past, it came only in 3-liter and 5-liter bottles and was given to investors and donated to wine auctions.
From the 1999 vintage, the winery produced about 950 screw-capped 750ml bottles of the Founder's Reserve, in addition to the large-format bottles, using what Adams believes were the five best barrels of the winery's vineyard-designated Chardonnay, Les Pierres. The wine will be released in 10 months, and no suggested retail price has been set yet. (The regular 1999 Les Pierres sells for $39.)
"I think there will be a split reaction from consumers," Adams said of the new closure. "But once they pour [the wine] in their glass and taste it, it's a moot point."
Adams said there are no plans yet to use screw caps on Sonoma-Cutrer's other wines. "I guess," Adams said, with a laugh, "I'm not willing to expend that much vision."
Check our recent ratings of Sonoma-Cutrer wines.
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