Vergelegen, a prominent winery in South Africa, has taken the Cape region's lead on screw caps by releasing some of its 2002 Sauvignon Blanc with Stelvin brand closures. Other prominent Cape wine producers, such as Neil Ellis and Fairview, are expected to follow suit, as the country's winemakers in South Africa are banding together to research and promote the use of the alternative to cork.
In recent years, quality-oriented wineries in Australia, New Zealand and the United States have been testing out screw caps, which many winemakers view as superior to natural cork in preserving a wine's freshness and preventing cork taint. However, change has come slowly, due to concerns that consumers may resist the move away from tradition or associate screw caps with low-quality wines.
Finding an alternative to cork has become imperative, according to Don Tooth, managing director of Anglo-American Farms, which owns Vergelegen. "Our quality has improved tremendously, but these gains are diminished by the number of bottles spoilt by cork taint," he said. "No industry could survive having 10 percent of its product regarded as defective."
Vergelegen put screw caps on 500 cases out of a total of 8,000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc. All the capped bottles will be sold in South Africa to test consumer reaction and determine future plans for other screw-cap bottlings. The winery is working on a strategy to export to the U.S. market.
Well-known South African winemakers, such as Neil Ellis and Charles Back of Fairview, whose wines are already sold in the United States, may soon follow suit on the closure switch. Ellis may release some of his Sauvignon Blanc with screw caps, while Back is considering it for Viognier. Stellenbosch Vineyards, which makes 700,000 cases annually and recently formed a joint venture with Australia's BRL Hardy, is also investigating caps.
Agusta Winery in Franschhoek, which is currently negotiating to release its wines in the United States, will begin bottling all of its 80,000-case production with screw caps within the next month or so.
The movement may pick up even more steam now that a group of winemakers and industry personalities, along with support from local bottle and closure suppliers, have launched the "South African Screw Cap Initiative," similar to a project New Zealand vintners started last year. The group will work on the technical issues of standardizing screw-cap use in the South African wine industry and promote the concept to consumers, as well as other wine producers.
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