Ever wondered about the differences between the traditional cork closure and the more modern screw caps? Today we are taking a deep dive into the two technologies and shedding light on the history and benefits of the two!
A Brief History of the Corks
Cork has been in use since 3000 BC and is used in a wide variety of products including shoes, flooring, bags, and of course as a closure for wine. Cork products are made by harvesting the bark of a Quercus Suber oak trees aka a Cork Oak, which takes 25 years of growth to reach maturity and to a point where the bark can be harvested. The process of harvesting is done by hand by specially trained cork harvesters who strip the bark from the trees using an axe.
As an organic material cork is a wonderful natural product, however as with any organic material it is subject to contamination. One of the reasons cork has been the material of choice for centuries is that its porous nature allows gradual oxidation for the wine as it bottle ages. However because it is a natural product there can be quite a lot of variation from cork to cork which can lead to something called sporadic oxidation.
Sporadic oxidation is the result of inconsistency in pore size of the cork, leading to the allowance of more or less oxygen to pass through the cork into the bottle. This can result in a browning in color, maderized (baked or stewed) character, loss of primary fruit and a general flattening of flavors and shortening of the finish of the wine. This comes from the varying elasticity of the corks, more or less lenticels (holes size and quantity), the internal bore of the glass neck, imperfections of the corking machinery can cause slices in the cork all of these can create variable issues with a perfect seal.
Cork Contamination aka "Corked" Wine
One of the other most commonly referred to downsides of cork closures is TCA (trichloroanisole), the primary form of wine contaminantion, also referred to as a “corked” or spoiled bottle of wine.
TCA is created when chlorine comes in contact with molds that form naturally in the bark of Quercus Suber oak trees. Chlorine is introduced during the washing of the bark when it is cut and from spray residue from pesticide sprays on the trees. Some of the tell-tale signs of a TCA contaminated or "corked" bottle of wine is a ‘wet-cardboard’ and ‘wet dog’ aromas, paired with suppressed fruit and a shortened finish. The flavor and aromas are distinct and are easy to pick-out once you know what to look for. The wine industry estimates that between 5-10% of all wine bottled under cork has some level of TCA.
Introduction of Screw Caps
In August of 1889 Dan Rylands of Barnsley in the UK patented the screw cap, however it would be another 70 years before screw caps were used in wine packaging.
If you look inside a screw cap you will see a coating on the interior which is its PVDC liners (polyVINylidene chloride) essentially the ‘wine-proofing layer.’ This is then coupled with either Tin or Saranex backing based on the winemaker's preference. Tin linings (which are 10% more expensive) prevent oxygen exchange and retain freshness in a wine. Tin linings are primarily used for white and rosé wines. On the other hand, saranex linings which are mainly used for red wines allow the wine to breathe.
In 1959 a French company, Le Bouchage Mecanique (now Pechiney) was the first to use screw caps on a wine bottle. In the 1960's a Bordeaux winery bottled multiple vintages in screw caps as a trial to test out the new technology. Unfortunately for them they used paper wad backing not saranex in the cap. Ten years later in the early 1970's the Swiss wine industry was the first to fully embrace the new screw cap closures and by 1980's it was the predominant closure being used.
In the 1970’s Australia confirmed the superiority of the closure for red and white wines using tin or Saranex depending on the wine, but the change was met with strong consumer resistance. However in the early 2000’s the industry once again embraced this closure (starting with Claire Valley high-end Riesling producers) and over the last two decades screw caps have gained industry and consumer popularity across the globe.
Corks vs Screw Caps, Which is Better?
A closure has a direct impact on the quality, stability, longevity and even proper storage of the wine. While cork has been the historic choice and for a great many years was the best option available, in the modern age screw caps have become superior due to the consistency they provide.
Screw caps offer a reliable seal that is consistent from bottle to bottle unlike cork which due to the fact that it is an organic material has slight variations from one cork to another that result in slight differences, and sometimes spoilage in the bottle.
One of the other main benefits and one that is often overlooked is that screw caps are inert, meaning they are flavorless and do not add any flavor (be it positive or negative) to the wine. On the other hand corks, introduce flavor both positive through slow oxygen exchange which allows wine to age in the bottle as well as negative (TCA) which results in spoilage. Screw caps, while inert, can be customized to allow for gradual slow oxygen exchange by adding a foam insert to the top of the screw caps interior thus mimicking the slow oxygen exchange of corks.
Temperature is often discussed as one of the main detriments to wine as it deteriorates the quality of the wine over time and causes spoilage. If you have ever opened a bottle of wine after it has sat baking in a car on a hot summers day you know what I'm talking about, the wine gets "cooked" and no longer tastes as it should. While a wine can get "cooked" no matter what closure you have, when a bottle with a traditional cork closure reaches 85 degrees Fahrenheit the cork will start pushing its way out of the top of the bottle exposing the wine to more oxygen and increasing the rate of spoilage/oxidation over time, whereas with screw caps you don’t run into this issue as the caps can hold more internal pressure and therefore are less effected by temperature swings.
Another main benefit of screw caps is their price, while pricier options do exist, there are affordable options when compared to many of their cork/capsule counterparts, meaning less packaging costs for the winery and therefore a better bottle price for the consumer, a win-win for everyone! For comparison, a natural cork costs $0.25 - $0.45 per cork plus the capsule is an additional $0.15 for polylamanents or roughly $0.02 for plastic. A stelvin screw caps costs $0.18 per cap and the higher end lux screw caps costs $0.50.
And if all of that wasn't enough to convince you that screw caps are the way of the future, one of our favorite features are how easily screw caps can be opened and resealed. No need to struggle with a corkscrew or ensure you have one on you, all you have to do is give the bottle a quick twist and your wine awaits! In addition to the ease of opening, screw caps are a green product, the are cost effective and easily recycled. Aluminum (what screw caps are made of) happens to be the most cost effective material to recycle and if that's not a plus I don’t know what is!
Suhru has been proudly packaging our wines under screw caps since we opened in 2008 and have seen great success in the age-ability of our wines under these closures. Many experiments have been done in regions across the world comparing screw caps to cork and the screw caps has come out equal if not better than the cork at aging in may cases. While it may be a "less romantic" way to open your wine, you can't beat the convenience!
Our 2020 Harvest has come to an end at Suhru. All of our grapes have been picked and are now busy fermenting into wine! While our fruit has all been picked, the work is far from done! Our white wines are completing the fermentation process while for the reds, the journey from grape juice into wine is just begining.
What's Happening in the Winery
Over the last week the focus in the winery has switched over to red wines, so we thought we'd take a quick moment to briefly review how red wine is made. Once our reds have been hand-harvested and delivered by tractor to the winery the grapes are destemmed and the grape must (aka berries, juice, skins, seeds and all) are pumped into open-top tanks where the magic of fermentation occurs.
All of the tanks at the winery are temperature controlled as temperature is key during fermentation. Yeast (the essential ingredient in turning juice into wine) like very specific conditions—too warm the yeast will over heat and die, too cold the yeast will fall dormant.
When the grape must reaches 60 degrees it is time to inoculate (aka add yeast)! Throughout fermentation the yeast cells will consume the natural occurring sugars in the grape juice, producing alcohol and releasing carbon dioxide. During the ferment as CO2 is released it rises, lifting the skins to the top of the tank forming a "cap".
We need to ensure that the juice stays in contact with the skins throughout the fermentation process as the skins are what give red wine its color. As a result, throughout fermentation we "punch-down" the grape skin cap that forms at the surface of the tank in order to reintroduce the skins to the juice. This process will be done multiple times a day at the beginning of fermentation, gradually slowing down as the rate of fermentation slows.
Once the fermentation process is complete and all of the sugars have been converted to alcohol, the the grape seeds will settle to the bottom of the tank while the grape skins float homogeneously with the wine. At this time the juice is drained off and pumped into another tank and in order to ensure we get every last drop of wine. The remaining skins are shoveled out of the tank and loaded into the press where we extract the remaining wine.
From here the wine is racked into oak barrels where it undergoes secondary fermentation or malolactic fermentation. During this second fermentation process the sharp, astringent malic acid is converted into lactic acid which gives the wine a softer, rounder mouth-feel and more pleasant drinking experience. Once this process is complete the wine is racked into clean barrels where is will stay in our temperature controlled barrel room for the coming months as it ages.
A Note from Winemaker Russell Hearn
Harvest 2020 started out nicely with the white and rosé fruit ripening in a dry pleasant weather pattern. All of our white and rosé varieties came into the winery looking very nice and are now fermenting along cleanly in tank. Our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio fruit came in looking especially nice with full fruit maturity. Our Cabernet Franc and Merlot which will be used to make our 2020 Rosé were picked during a cool spell so they both retained nice natural acidity.
However after a beautiful summer and nice September, October has given us a run for our money! The second half of October turned wet and humid with below average temperatures so we have seen some delays in the red fruit which means that some of the red varieties out here will not be picked at the high level of quality that they otherwise could have been. Therefore, we have chosen to only make Teroldego this Harvest as it is an early ripening variety and was not as impacted by the uncharacteristic weather as the other red varieties. Our Teroldego was picked on October 26th probably 7-10 days later than normal which is one of the benefitw of it being an early ripener, even in a cooler than normal year it still ripens. The Teroldego fruit looked beautiful coming into the winery and is now busy fermenting away in tank. We look forward to seeing how this wine continues to improve and evolve throughout the fermentation process!
Checkout Previous Harvest Updates.
What's Happening in the Vineyard
This time of year a winemaker spends a good portion of each day walking the vineyards, inspecting the fruit, and tasting the berries to determine their optimal ripeness and when they should be picked. Harvest is well underway on the North Fork and we are looking forward to picking several more tons of fruit in the coming weeks!
Our winemaker Russell has been walking the vineyards, inspecting the fruit, and testing the berries Brix (sugar) levels to determine their ripeness. Winemakers walk the vineyards for a number of reasons as there is a lot you can tell by looking at the vine and tasting the berry as to how the fruit is developing. Taste is a key indicator (as it is in every step of the winemaking process). By tasting the grapes you can assess the ripeness of the berry based on its sweetness as well as by the taste of the seeds.
If you have ever had the chance to taste a wine grape there are several seeds inside the berry. These seeds are a great indicator of a berries ripeness. Green seeds mean the grape is immature. As we walk the vineyard and taste the fruit we are looking for a desired sweetness level and a brown seed indicates that the berry has reached ripeness. An underripe seed can impart a "green" flavor to the wine and add an astringency to the tannins particularly in a red wine which will spend the first few weeks of its post-harvesting journey into wine, in contact with the skins and seeds.
What's Happening at the Winery
Harvest is well underway on the North Fork of Long Island! At this point in mid-September most of the fruit for sparkling, white wines, and rosés have been picked and have begun their fermentation process (which has been keeping our winery crew nice and busy these past few weeks). The red harvest will be starting shortly but we are enjoying the "calm before the storm" at the moment.
Once a grape has been harvested and brought into the winery there is a lot that needs to happen before that grape makes it into your glass—destemming, crushing, settling, fermentation, pressing, pumping, racking, barreling, and bottling—the journey from grape to wine is just beginning. We aren't going to dive into all of that just now (that would be a VERY long post) but let's talk briefly about the first few steps as they relate to what is happening at our winery at the moment.
Our white wines are "in tank" at the moment. When they first came into the winery they were destemmed and loaded into the press which gently squeezed the juice from the berries, leaving the skins and seeds behind. The discarded skins and seeds were then loaded into a truck and driven to the vineyard where they are being composted to be used to fertilize the vineyard for seasons to come. Back at the winery our white wine juice is pumped into tanks (as can be seen in the photo to the left). The juice is then left alone for a day or two to allow any solids to settle to the bottom.
Once the juice has settled, it is racked (the clear juice is pumped into another tank leaving the solids behind) at which point it is inoculated with yeast and the fermentation process begins. During fermentation, temperature control is essential. If the juice is too cold the yeast will go dormant and if too warm the yeast will die. All of our tanks are temperature controlled to create an ideal environment for the yeast to thrive as they consume the naturally occurring sugars in the grapes and convert them to alcohol. Once the yeast is finished consuming the sugars (all sugar is consumed when making a dry wine, fermentation is stopped while some sugar remains for a sweet wine) the fermentation process stops and the wine is again settled allowing the dead yeast cells to settle to the bottom of the tank. Once settled the remaining clear wine is racked into a new tank or barrel to begin its aging process.
Harvest has started on the North Fork! While we are yet to begin harvesting our vineyards, a number of wineries across Long Island are busy bringing in fruit for their sparkling wines!
This is one of our favorite times of the year as this is when all the action happens at the winery! Over the next few months we will be keeping you up-to-date on the Blog and on our Instagram account on everything going on in the winery and the vineyard during the 2020 Harvest!
What's Happening in the Winery
With the beginning of our harvest season quickly approaching, this week has been spent preparing for fruit receival and readying the winery for the first grapes to arrive (aka lots of cleaning!) As our winemaker Russell loves to say "Winemaking is 70% Sanitation, 20% Perspiration, 9% Inspiration, and 1% Degustation, but only at the end of the day!"
When grapes arrive at the winery their first stop in their journey into wine is the crush-pad which is where all the action happens. The crush-pad is home to the de-stemmer, presses, weight scale, and a number of other machines that ensure that the first stages of the grapes post-picking journey to become wine goes smoothly. We have been readying our crush-pad for the last few weeks and just had new membranes installed to ensure everything is ready to go for the 2020 harvest season! Over the next few days the winery crew will be busy cleaning and sanitizing all the harvest equipment: hoses, piping, hoppers, destemmer/crusher and the presses in preparation to receive fruit, which could potentially be coming as early as next week.
While all of this is going on outside on the crush-pad the cellar is being prepared for harvest as well, cleaning tanks, making sure everything is organized, and preparing several harvest devices such as the 'punch-down tool' for red wine fermentations 5-6 weeks away.
What's Happening in the Vineyard
In the vineyards, Russell is carefully watching the grapes and monitoring their sugar content (Brix) which is used to determine the grapes ripeness to determine when to pick our grapes. He is regularly walking the vineyards, inspecting the grapes, speaking to the vineyard managers, and testing the grapes. As we get closer to picking he will be carefully monitoring the weather. The goal is always to harvest grapes after several dry days. Whenever possible you want to avoid harvesting shortly after a rain as the grapes will be bloated with water they absorbed.
A Note from Winemaker Russell Hearn
I never make predictions on the quality of the Harvest until 'all the fruit is in the building' however, 2020 is setting up very nicely and we are anticipating a good harvest. The growing season started very slowly this Spring with May and early June being much cooler and wetter than normal, which seems to be becoming the norm on the East End the last few years. Since then we have enjoyed a beautiful run of warm weather with very little rain (what we hope for in an ideal grape growing season). We are below normal in rainfall since June and have needed to drip irrigate several times during the last three months, which is always a good sign for quality. When the potato and sod farmers are grumbling about the dryness, the vineyard managers and winemakers are smiling! Grapes vines like a little stress during the growing season, with long dry summers and minimal rain being their ideal growing season. This harvest is shaping up to be very similar to 2019, so with some continued dry conditions I am very hopeful.
People have been making wine for millennium, with the first evidence of winemaking dating back to sometime between 8000 B.C. and 4100 B.C. However since the beginning the challenge has always been how to store the wine once it was made.
Glass bottles were not used in wine on a large scale until the 17th century, although they were different shapes—squat, with large bases and short necks—than the wine bottles today. It wasn’t until the 1820s that glass wine bottles began to resemble the ones we use today.
The main reason for the delay in the adoption of glass bottles for wine storage was that for centuries it was illegal to sell wine in a bottle. There were so many different bottle types (and volume variations) that it was far too easy to cheat, so merchants measured out wine from their barrels into containers that customers supplied themselves to ensure accurance.
In the 17th century that all changed. Up until the 17th century glass bottles were considered a luxury item due to the fact that they were made to order and handcrafted in a wood or charcoal furnace. Bottles were a time consuming product to make and therefore very expensive. However in 1615, King James I decided that English forests were better used to make warships. Wood was in short supply so manufacturers turned to coal, which burned hotter and produced stronger glass.
Sir Kenelm Digby is cited as “the father of the modern bottle” for discovering a process that resulted in stronger bottles that were able to be made and distributed on a wider scale. A controversial adventurer, privateer and alchemist Sir Digby was known for turning sand into gold by adding some secret ingredients (metals and oxides) and using a blower system to get the fire even hotter. His new formula produced glass bottles that were stronger, thicker, darker—and cheaper thus bringing a stronger better suited glass bottle to market.
This discovery made glass more widely available, but it wasn’t until the 1900s that mass production began. In 1887, an English company created a semi-automatic machine that could produce up to 200 bottles an hour. Over the years this process has been pefected and refined to allow modern machines to produce more than 600 containers per minute.
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Did you know? Decanting red wine separates the wine from any sediment in the bottle. Decanted wines often taste softer, because the act of decanting adds oxygen to the wine softening the tannins in the wine.
What is decanting?
Decanting is simply the process of pouring (decanting) the wine from one container (usually a bottle) into another, the decanter. The wine is often then served directly into the glass from the decanter itself.
Why decant wine?
This process is not necessary with every wine, but is usually reserved with older, heavier wines (think our T'Jara Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot). Aged, heavier red wines often have sediment at the bottom of the bottle, which if disturbed can end up in your glass. The process of decanting separates the wine from the sediment, making for a more enjoyable drinking experience. The sediment itself, is harmless to drink but can make the wine taste more astringent and will often give the wine a gritty mouth feel.
Another reason to decant is to aerate the wine. This is generally most beneficial to younger wines that may taste a little "tight" when first opening, as well as highly tannic and full-bodied wines. This is often why people talk about opening a wine to let it "breathe;" decanting or aerating the wine speeds up this process, ensure the wine is ready to drink when you are. Swirling your wine in the glass is another way to aerate your wine.
How do I decant?
To decant a wine, you will need a bottle of wine, a small flashlight (or the flashlight on your smart phone), and a decanter (this can be any 750ml or larger vessel). Prior to decanting your wine, let the wine rest upright in the bottle for an hour or so to let the sediment settle to the bottom of the bottle. Then, with your flashlight in hand, slowly pour the contents of the bottle into your decanter. Once about half of the bottle's contents have been poured into the decanter, place the flashlight under the neck of the bottle to illuminate the stream of wine so you can better see the sediment. Once you start to see a cloudy haze in the wine, stop pouring the wine into the decanter.
You will usually have about a glass of wine remaining, so to ensure that you can enjoy every last drop of this very nice wine you have just decanted, pour the remaining wine from the bottle into a glass or Champagne flute. This will allow any remaining sediment to once again settle to the bottom of the glass. Once the wine has settled, you can repeat the process and pour the clear wine off the remaining sediment.