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PlumpJack Puts New Twist on Napa Valley Cabernet

James Laube
Posted: May 25, 2000

Napa Valley Cabernets that sell for more than $100 a bottle aren't all that rare anymore, but how about one with a screw-cap closure?

This September, PlumpJack in Oakville will release its Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997 -- a rich, seductive berry- and chocolate-flavored wine -- and half of the 300-case production will be fitted with twist-off screw-caps. It may sound like a risky proposition for a high-caliber Cabernet, but PlumpJack's owners, frustrated by bad corks spoiling wines, think the time is right to test market alternatives.

Defective corks, which can impart a moldy flavor to wines, are a controversial subject among winemakers. Most readily acknowledge that bad corks spoil too many good wines, yet wine marketers have cringed at the thought of alternative closures. Screw-caps in particular have long been associated with inexpensive jug wines -- not the kind of image upscale wineries want to promote. And no winery has wanted to be the first to try them and perhaps tarnish its image.

But Gordon Getty, the wealthy San Francisco philanthropist who is a part-owner of PlumpJack, encouraged his partners to try screw-caps, and they agreed to bottle half of the Reserve with twist-off closures.

"Gordon had the same frustration many of us did with the 'corky' taint," said John Conover, general manager of PlumpJack. "We thought of alternatives, and the screw-cap came to mind immediately."

PlumpJack will release its 1997 Reserve with the screw-cap version selling for $135 a bottle, while the bottles sealed with corks will sell for $125.

No one knows for sure whether consumers will find the screw-caps appealing or a put-off, admitted Conover. Furthermore, research comparing the aging effects of corks and screw-caps is also inconclusive. "We looked at research in bits and pieces, and there's no conclusive evidence either way as to which one is better," Conover said.

But PlumpJack hopes to find out, encouraged in part by other wine professionals troubled by tainted corks. "It's an experiment that we hope will start a dialogue" about the pros and cons of screw-caps, said Conover. "A lot of people have told us, 'It's about time.'"

At first glance, the twist-off Reserve bottle looks just like the cork-finished bottle, except for the thread rings around the neck. The fill level of the wine is the same.

Ordering a limited number of specially designed bottles cost PlumpJack more money, Conover said, but if the winery ever decided to put screw-caps on more of its wines, it would result in a savings.

PlumpJack, which also owns a fine wine shop and restaurants in San Francisco, is known for its innovative style, and the screw-cap fits in nicely. "We're willing to buck the trend and try something new," said Conover.

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Check out recent ratings of PlumpJack wines.

Learn more about the issue of cork taint:

  • Nov. 15, 1998
    Are You Ready for the New Cork?

    Read other articles about PlumpJack:

  • Sept. 27, 1999
    Chef Keith Luce Moves to PlumpJack in San Francisco

  • Dec. 15, 1997
    An Undiscovered Dozen

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