David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery Winemaker's Diary

Weeks 21 - 22
May 25, 2003 to June 7, 2003 

  Thursday May 29 , 2003

Our present offer of 2003 Pre Harvest Futures will end on Monday. Actually the offer will continue, but at slightly higher prices. The new prices will continue at least until we have a better idea of the amount of fruit we will be harvesting. Right now bloom is going well and the visual quality looks great. I'll have more to report in the next week or so. The offer of 2002 Futures will remain the same until July 15. 

Pat is away to Minnesota (Mayo Clinic) accompanying a friend. Her friend Cheryl has decided to have a surgery to remove what she believes is a hernia in her chest. She has had two open heart surgeries done by Kaiser, but she is still in a lot of pain. Pat will be back early next week with good news, I hope. In the mean time I have had to answer e-mail. Boy, I wish she were here. 

Thursday June 5 , 2003

As most of you know, Brendan and I have strong opinions. Some of our strongest opinions are about closures used for wine. I am against natural corks and possibly screwcaps (unless the industry can convince me that screwcaps don't fail and thus oxidize the wine). I have been a big supporter of artificial corks. Recently I received an e-mail from a customer requesting answers on oxidation and artificial corks and since Brendan has more knowledge on this subject, I forwarded the e-mail to him. Brendan had some interesting comments (opinions), so I am including some of them here. Have fun reading them. 

From Brendan:
(Re: SO2 and oxidation in response to an e-mail) This is definitely an area that Dave and I keep tabs on.  However, it's probably safe to say that I probably keep up with current research more than Dave does.  Out of personal curiosity I am interested in doing a screwcap (ROTE/Stelvin) trial but Dave is not as enthused.  I may try and arrange a trial with my personal wine at the winery just to experiment.  In general, though, we do not have much impetus to move to any other closure because we are both pretty happy with Neocorq.

The problems that your friend mentions are pretty well known in the industry at this point.  Unfortunately, there is still not a lot of great data available to work from.  The AWRI (Australian Wine Research Institute) study is really the only research available that does any real side-by-side comparisons of different closures but, as with any single study, it has its' limitations.  The biggest complaint that I have heard about the AWRI study is that the wine used for the trial is a high pH Australian Semillon which many people feel is a very poor reference wine because it is very sensitive to oxidation and can develop dramatic browning and off-flavors below 10mg/L of SO2.  In addition, the main focus of the study is free SO2 deterioration, which is a decent reference point but still only one of many potential markers for potential wine quality and aging.  The most unfortunate thing I can find about the study is that although a lot of people might grumble about how representative the results are, nobody has decided to follow it up with anything better.  The AWRI wines are from the 1999 vintage and yet, 4 years later, I have not heard of anyone even planning a new trial of the same scope.

For us the AWRI study is interesting but since Neocorq was not included, it does not give us any real data to work with.  It is impossible to even compare generic data such as "synthetic" vs. "natural" because synthetic corks scored at the very top and bottom of the free SO2 scoring.  After 36 months, the highest free SO2 level is a tie between the ROTE closure (screw cap) and Altec (both at 17mg/L).  The lowest was also a tie between Ecork and California "Tage" (I am not familiar with this company) (both at 4mg/L).  Natural cork came in at 9mg/L (44mm cork) and 8mg/L (38mm cork).  Where would Neocorq fit in if it had been tested is anybodies guess.  We at least have one very important measure of closure performance, 4 years worth of tasty wine. We only have a few closure comparisons to make because we have only done a small handful of cork trials, but at least we can say that we are very happy with how our wines taste now with Neocorq and are very satisfied with how the wines from the '98, '99, and '00 have aged.  In the end, we would have to be convinced that the ROTE/Stevin closure (screw cap) would be able to, in some way, out perform Neocorq if we were to ever switch from one to the other.

In the really big picture I agree that synthetic cork will hopefully be only a temporary solution. Personally, I find the debate about synthetic vs. natural cork like arguing about what the perfect grip for a buggy whip should be. Only in the wine industry would such a minor change in 300 hundred year old technology be so contentious. For the love of God!, we're shoving tree-bark into large glass bottles. Forget the 21st century, let's get into the 20th first and work our way up from there. Deciding if synthetic tree bark is as good as real tree bark really misses the broader point, "Why are we using 750ml glass bottles at all?" They are expensive, they're heavy, they break too easily, they are an inconvenient size, they are difficult to seal. Again, it is technology that has not changed dramatically in 300 years. Have we learned nothing in 3 centuries?

Walk down any isle of the supermarket and look at how functioning, healthy industries package and market their products. Then walk down the wine isle and see 200 different brands that all look shockingly similar. What counts as product differentiation in the wine business? Ooow, my glass is light green instead of dark green (wait, there's a clear bottle! They are such rebels!). Wow, this bottle has slightly more slopped shoulder than that bottle. My square paper label has a slightly different design than your square paper label. Give me a break.

Why doesn't 90% of the population drink wine?; Because they have no need to buy into the ridiculous inbred mythology that counts as "wine culture" in this country and one look at our product tells the average consumer everything that they need to know about the current wine industry. It's boring, it's antiquated, and it does not naturally fit in with peoples everyday lives. Thank God they don't know that we have spent the last 10 years passionately arguing about tree bark. We'd be the laughing stock of Safeway.

I know it brands me as a "radical", but we should be taking a serious look at individual serving sizes, foil pouches, plastics, lined paper pouches, and exploring packaging technologies that are not even in use yet. Right now screwcaps count as cutting-edge technology. Screwcaps, however, do not count as "new packaging technology", they've been around for more than 30 years are unimaginative and tragically old in every other industry except the wine industry. There will always be a place for glass and cork, but it is obnoxious and suicidal as an industry that they are the only real option available for wine in this country today.

The only worse thing is the fact that we insanely cling to bottle and cork as a piece of valuable wine tradition and a symbol of wine "culture" while ignoring the fact that countries with a REAL wine traditions and culture (France, Italy, Spain) have wine available in everything from 50 gallon drums to milk cartons. That is the sign of a health wine culture. It is a place where a majority of people actually consume wine on a daily basis. This is as opposed to the diseased culture that currently pervades the United States where 1% of the population randomly spews ignorant proclamations based on what they think France or Italy did 100 years ago and does everything it can to keep wine as an elitist beverage that is best suited to the dark ages.

Not that I'm bitter that I have dedicated my life to a product that people are trying to make as irrelevant as possible in the society that I live in or anything... 

Brendan, what do you really think?, Dave


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