Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Screw Caps

As you may have guessed by now I'm a great one for ritual and nostalgia (I still listen to and collect vinyl records!), and I guess having a cork in a wine bottle is one of those practices that fit clearly into that category.Like much nostalgia, the reason that it becomes nostalgic is that it has been replaced by a better technology that is safer. quicker, more functional etc. In this case it has been created by the arrival of the screw cap.

For some reason though, the South African wine market has been slow to get rid of this and as amazingly upwards of 10% of SA wine is tainted by corks. This is pointed out in this great article by Michael Fridjhon in Saturday's weekender:
Wine industry corked by unreliable packaging. Fridjhon alludes to the obvious reason of marketers and industry know-it-alls assuming that consumers will not be big and brave enough to make the change, but also very interesting point that the SA market is dominated by a single monopoly glassmaker which is 35% more expensive and less responsive to the market than European glassmaking competitors.

We will adapt, though, and give it 18 months and I believe we may not be so squeamish about twisting off a wine stopper.

Given the take-off (no pun originally intended) of the screw cap in Australia I wonder what they are dangling on the brims of their hats to fend off flies these days?

20 comments:

Third World Ant said...

Completely concurs with a conclusion I came to about the SA wine industry last year: they have not transformed to embrace the recently transformed consumer base. At the FNB whisky festival, faces were equally white and black, young and old (though reasonably more male than female). At the RMB festival, faces were generally older, and all white.

If whisky drinking and golf have managed to shake off the stereotypes, why hasn't wine? Without the transformation, the local industry will surely die.

The painfully slow cork conversion issue is a metonymy for the industry as a whole, I think. (A really sad indictment, I really love my wine...)

Dave said...

Here in the UK most wine bottles still have a cork, or at least the last time I checked they did! I don't think the wine industry will ever move completely away from corks, and certainly not towards the top end of the market. The anti-cork argument doesn't make sense to me, if you're going to move away from corks because of cost and consistency then why continue to bother using bottles. Surely boxed wine is cheaper to produce. You see corks like bottles are part of the marketing package wines sells itself on.

Third World Ant said...

Dave, a number of factors make bottles a good option - they're chemically inert and thus can be used for storage for long periods of time; glass is a hard smooth surface that is easily sterilised; as you pointed out the glass bottles are attractive packaging (you can also see through the container at the product you're purchasing) - all this, without ever ruining the contents inside! A loss of 10% of product to cork taint is significant - but besides the screw caps, other types of attractive closures are possible, such as glass stoppers. They're just too damn expensive.

I agree with you, I don't know that the world will ever move entirely away from cork, but it's good to see some premium brands in Australia and New Zealand taking the plunge for the sake of consistently better quality product...

Third World Ant said...

Just re-read my last comment, it comes across like I'm a real know-it-all. sorry! Just busy studying for a wine exam, last night I read over the wine-making process notes, and I was reciting the list of reasons why glass bottles are good containers for wine :)

VallyP said...

I've never had a problem with screw caps myself! I used to get teased a lot in SA about my propensity for drinking wine from bottles with screw tops, but to me it;s the ideal combination! A re-cyleable glass bottle with an easy to remove top that keeps the wine good for longer! I also love my wine TWA.

BTW am also seriously into glass these days after having taught English for 8 months at a glass bottle making plant here in Rotterdam

ATW said...

The issue is not really about cost at all, but rather about continuing with a practice that damages the wine (some stats indicate up to 25% of wines are cork tainted). Dave, can you really picture yourself ordering at a serious restaurant ordering a box of wine to wash down your escargot?

Yes, dear Ant - "chemically inert" indeed, and metonymy ! (I had to look that up - for everyone's benefit: "A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated, as in the use of Washington for the United States government or of the sword for military power."

Generally though any comment (beyond "I like" or "I don't like") or analysis about wine tends to have a huge snob angle.

My view is that ever since Tassies was diluted with Argentinian filler it's all been downhill in the SA wine industry. Hey, now there is an original screwtop. Maybe I'm onto something - we associate screwcaps with Tassies. ie cheap university wine.. cheap=nasty therefore screwtop=nasty?

VallyP said...

I think you've got it in one, there ATW! Mind you I used to drink Tassies by the crate...and if I remember right there was a white perle wine called Harvest something which I also drank in faily copious amounts. Both of the above went down very well with Pizza and good conversation.

VallyP said...

PS, my point being of course, that scre top=cheap=student=nasty is simply prejudice and has nothing to do with quality

VallyP said...

PPS Sorry, I keep forgetting things, but have you seen what the French use for their every day table wine? And they think they are the world experts, so if they are happy with simple plastic caps, then....?

ATW said...

Actually still drink the odd bottle of Tassies - although have grduated to another classic : Chateau Libertas as an everyday red.

I can still recall the ritual that a mate and I had of chipping in our last R2 each to splitting a R4 bottle of Tassies at the Heidelberg Tavern in Obs. What could you get for R2 now!!! Now that is both ritual & nostalgia & a screwtop. Followed by immensely sore head and a few missed lectures. (That was my first year of first year!)

Peas on Toast said...

Nah. I think you guys have been smoking too much crack. Personally.

Vodka. Now there's a great drink. It's anesthetic qualities, mixed frugally with a touch Bolshevik class, make this an easily-flowing beverage that helps one come right in any location, be it the Russian gulags or a night club.

PS: I'm just kidding. Sort of. Ant, you're going to fly through your wine exam. If last night's nose-in-book had anything to go by!

Third World Ant said...

ATW - going to have to disagree with you on the Libertas, mate. Sis! And I've seen it sold in restaurants for as much as R90 per bottle! (Tassies, I have no problem with, though I've not sampled it in ages. Drinking mostly Internet-obtained quality wines in unlabelled bottles - check it out: www.getwine.co.za - the Saxenburg is particlarly good and cheap!)

My first year of first year had very similar (blurry) memories :)

Vallyup - we all agree! Cork does not equal good wine - perhaps we should start a petition or something to get the SA wine board to move their asses on the matter :)

Peas - no! Nothing wrong with vodka at appropriate occasions. That said, you probably drink more wine than me anyway, so you implicitly agree with us anyway! Thanks for the vote of confidence, I've got a fack-load more to learn still... two weeks to go :)

Peas on Toast said...

PS: Wit, love the whole vinyl thing. My dad offered to give me all his old records - there must be 200 or so - classics. From Sinatra, to Jimi Hendrix, to the Bee Gees, to Cream. Thing is I don't have a record player. Can you just buy these? And, like, where?

ATW said...

Hi Peas, Can I adopt your old man? I know from some of your posts he's a bit kooky but 200 lp's !!! Cream, Hendrix etc...Damnit that's just begging to make me jealous.

Yes, you can just buy turntables - the decent ones are absolute works of engineering art BUT hellish expensive. More than the average small car - no jokes.
Check out VinylSAa for some examples or The Analog Dept.

For some reason very expensive in SA. In the UK there are some great entry level models but as they are pretty heavy & bulky getting them here is just prohibitive.

3 routes then:
1.Junkmail
2. Find out if the oldman has a turntable to give you.
3.Buy a cheaper DJ turntable and kit it out with a standard (not DJ) cartridge - that will still set you back about R800

You then need to ensure that your hifi or amp has a phono input - if not then you need a phono pre-amp (from +-R400).

Expensive hobby but I just love the novelty & ritual.

Good luck.

ps if you can't find a turntable I am sure I could find a good home for the vinyl..

VallyP said...

Hmm, I don't know if it's worth trying, but I bought a turntable a few months ago here in Rotterdam, because I have to admit that I also love the sound of vinyl, and there are some great second hand record shops here where you can get everything.

Anyway, it was quite inexpensive (as opposed to cheap!) at €99, and has a built in semi-amp thing as well being possible to connect to a computer if you have a sound card, which means you can record them, complete with crackles et al, or play them through your normal speakers.

It may be possible to order a similar one online (after all, I order things from SA), alternatively, get someone to bring one back for you when they go to Europe....or ask me very nicely indeed, and I can bring a turntable over when I come next but that won't be until January next year...sorry!

VallyP said...

Just read ATW's comment again, and see I mean pre-amp...not semi...sorry, I'm not very good at technical jargon!

BTW, on the subject of Tassies, last time I was in SA in April this year, I saw it was a staggering R18 a bottle! It's attaining class status just by its price! When I left, I think it had gone up to about R8, but prices seem to go up every year.

Peas on Toast said...

Thanks Wit, I will definitely do some investigating! :)

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