Thoroughly Uncorked - Fake News

December 7, 2019

We are coming up to it being twenty years since the winemakers of the Clare Valley decided that they had had enough of the cork taint that had been plaguing their magnificent Riesling and they switched to screwcap.

In doing so they started a global revolution. Or, more accurately evolution, whereby over this period many of the worlds’ wines have switched from cork to screwcap and more recently glass stoppers as being the better ways to seal wine bottles – so that consumers can taste the wines as their maker intended them to taste.

In that time frame the Portuguese based cork industry has spent tens of millions of Euros, firstly trying to persuade (con) wine drinkers into believing that there was no problem. When that didn’t work they spent money on research (which they should have done two decades earlier) to reduce the problem of cork taint (TCA) to “non-traceable levels”. That is, not get rid of it, but rather lower the levels to the point where most consumers can’t notice it.

Along the way the cork industry has conducted some of the most misleading advertising/promotion imaginable under the guise of news bulletins with very, very small letters at the bottom of the item saying, “sponsored content”, i.e. propaganda. However, if you do not see or notice those two little words you would think you are reading accurate news rather than cork spiel. They are such masters of misdirection that an old KGB agent would be proud of their work.

Here is one such example from last year:

“Studies show that 90% of consumers prefer cork stoppers due to their association with quality, tradition and the ritual of wine drinking – a premium perception that retailer sales can benefit from. Consumers are right to celebrate the natural attributes of cork – it is an impermeable material which allows wine to age without deteriorating, and its innate elasticity enables the closure to adapt to the neck of the bottle as it changes with temperature”.

This “Goebbelesque” propaganda went on for a whole page and finished with this gem: “Despite its centuries-old history, the cork closure has proven it will stand the test of time and continue to retain its position as the closure of choice for consumers and winemakers world wide”.  A statement truly worthy of Donald Trump, but just a load of “bollocks”!  It is the “closure of choice” of the customers and consumers that THEY selected to be surveyed.

Did they talk to –

  • Senior/elderly wine drinkers who struggle with opening a cork sealed bottle?
  • With the less muscular waiting staff in restaurants who struggle with opening a wine bottle quickly and efficiently?
  • The wine connoisseurs who have weeping, oxidised bottles of wine in their cellars?
  • The consumers who want to enjoy a bottle of wine at a leisure venues (beach, sailing, sporting grounds) without having to wrestle with a bloody cork screw?
  • Likewise with the winemakers – yes, some want to stay with cork for a variety of reasons, but others like some of the winemakers I met in Spain, have two sealers on their bottling line, because: “we have screwcap for all our exports, but have to have a corker as well because the older wine drinkers here in Spain will not even try a bottle under screwcap so the domestic wine is all under cork.”

So, it is not just Australia and New Zealand getting screwed. Many of Austria’s wineries are using screwcaps, as are the more enlightened ones in a growing number of other countries. I have also seen premium Chinese white wine under screwcap. There are even French wineries that are now bottling their wines under screwcap.

Recently, I read an “article” (a paid political announcement) saying that there is a massive growth in the use of corks in Australian wines. Well yes, the sales of corks here have gone from “one-fifth of sweet-FA to two-fifths of sweet-FA”, because we have overtaken France as the biggest supplier of imported wine into China. But even there one needs to exercise caution. The growth in the use of corks has been mainly in BOB (Buyers Own Brands) because internet savvy Chinese consumers are very weary when they see a well-known Australian wine brand in China under cork when they know that in Australia it is sold under screwcap. They ask themselves: Is it Fake Wine? And so they shy away from buying it. Most of the wineries that I know export their portfolio to China under screwcap and only use cork for their customers BOB’s, thus protecting the integrity of their brand. By the way it is massively more difficult for the criminals to create fake wines under screwcaps than it is under corks. Every man and his dog has a corker whereas a screw capping machine is much more costly and there isn’t the same ready access to new caps for them to use.

Hey, if the “corkies” are doing so brilliantly, why do they need to be blurting out all this hidden advertising? Like the “interviews” they keep giving which are in effect, “fake news”. How much publicity (advertising) have you seen recently in the media for screwcaps? None! They are just getting on with the job of delivering wine to consumers in the state/condition that the winemaker intended. Oh, with the added advantage that it can be cellared for long periods at a time without weeping, leaking or oxidising the wine like corks do!!!

For my hard earned money, I would much rather stay screwed and uncorked.  Cheers!

This Week's Wine Review:

This week it is all about a very unusual, community spirited wine event.

On November 1, I was invited by one of my best friends to an unusual lunch at Willunga Creek Wines. Unusual, in that unlike every other winery lunch where they showcase their own wines, at this one (other than their delightful sparkling wine which was served to accompany the oysters), the rest of the wines on taste were not their branded wines.

Thanks to Willunga Creek Wines owner, Dave Cheesley, the luncheon is an annual affair conducted so that the local grape growers can showcase the wines that winemaker, Phil Christiansen, makes for them. Most of the participants were local growers, many of whom sell the majority of their grapes to other wineries and just keep a small batch so that Phil can make some wine for them. There are also two or three participants who only have very small patches of vineyard and all of their grapes are turned into wine for them.

There were 16 unlabelled wines set up on a big trestle table, without indication as to what variety or vintage they were. One of the wines was from Willunga Creek Wines but we had no way of knowing which one.

Each participant tasted all the wines and then selected their three favourites. This was a fun exercise which led to much debate amongst some of the mob. Once everybody had finished, the sheets were collected and tallied up to reveal the top three wines. To add a bit of interest to the proceedings, each person’s top three were called out, which led to some friendly ribald banter between colleagues on the same table and between fellow growers.

Eventually the three top scoring wines were revealed accompanied by much light-hearted banter from the assembled multitude. My top selection #14 turned out to be the third most popular wine on the day, and despite the fact that all of us at our table thought it was a Shiraz, it turned out to be a Cabernet – which is one of the joys of tasting unfinished wines as they are harder to pick.

The three winners were given accolades and each made a small talk about their wine and more particularly about their grapes.

The lunch was superb! The atmosphere extremely relaxed and friendly making it a fabulous yet mystery packed afternoon. A great time was had by all.

The reason I mention this event, is that the vast majority of wine events are far too serious and full of pressure. Although wine is a serious business, it also needs to be a bit of fun so that it doesn’t become too intense and intimidating to consumers and outsiders.

Thank you Willunga Creek Wines for a brilliant afternoon and a great lesson in keeping life fun and interesting. There needs to be more of this, especially in these trying times.

Cheers and have fun with your wine!