Re: Screwcaps
    James Luscombe, April 24, 2004

    You kind of dropped a bombshell in your recent diary posting!

    Before commenting on that, however, let me say how much I have enjoyed your diary.

    I have just recently finished reading (over several weeks) the complete diary starting from the first posting to your website in 1998.  The diary as a whole is EXTREMELY informative.  It is in many ways a mini-textbook on winemaking. Occasionally, I had wished there was a search facility to the entire diary, so I could refer again to what you had said about a given topic.  The material in your diary would be a goldmine for someone writing a movie script or novel about all that a winemaker must face over the course of the winemaking year.  I was fascinated by the agonizing over the decision about when to harvest.  I also found very interesting the ³end game² that goes on, when such and such a vineyard has excess grapes to offer, and how you manage to capitalize on that unpredictability in crafting your many blends.  Through your diary I¹ve learned a lot about wine; you¹ve done a real service here towards educating the wine-drinking public.

    A side effect is that reading your diary makes me want to consume wine!

    You should post a warning ­ Caution:  Reading this diary can produce a desire to enjoy wine.

    Now, on to screw tops.

    My reactions are mixed, and I thought you might like some customer input. I¹m a big fan of your operation, and I have every confidence in you as a winemaker.

    So, on the one hand, its no big deal:  Once a bottle is opened, and the wine is in the glass, does one think about the bottle or the cork?  Usually not ­ unless you suspect something is wrong with the cork.  I¹d like to think that wine drinkers (including myself) are open to changes in winemaking technology, so long as the quality of the wine is not affected. While there is a certain ³panache² to corks, it is after all the quality of the wine that is the relevant issue.

    On the other hand, what problem is being solved by going to screw tops?  As the saying goes, if it ain¹t broke, don¹t fix it.  I think you need to educate your customers on your reasons for moving in this direction.

    What research has been done on the viability of screw tops on bottles of premium wines?  From my own limited experience, I note that Bonny Doon Winery (near Santa Cruz) is now using screw tops, and I have seen a few
    other top-notch wineries offering wines in screw-top bottles. Clearly the issue is what provides a superior seal to the bottle, and one should not be surprised to learn that perhaps there are improved technologies to sealing a
    bottle other than the centuries-old use of corks.  Which method, however, has proven to provide a superior seal over an extended length of time?

    Has the following kind of experiment been performed?  Take, say, 20 bottles of the same wine.  On half of them put screw tops, on the other half corks. Let them sit.  After a year, do a blind tasting on the wine from a bottle with a screw top, and that from a bottle with a cork.  Repeat this experiment every year, for 10 years.  Only then would one know if screw tops are ³wine-quality neutral².  Have you done experiments such as this? Clearly, from your diary entries you are concerned about the reactions of your customers; you should allay fears by educating us on your reasons for
    screw tops.  I note that if the screw tops fail over time, you face a huge potential loss of future business. What makes you take on such a risk?  Of course, if screw tops did fail, you wouldn¹t keep using them.

    For your business, if I may say so (what the hell do I know?), I think that introducing a sudden change in packaging is problematic.  People who buy wines on a futures basis incur a certain risk in forking over cash for an unknown product.  Going to screw tops adds an extra element of risk to those who have already purchased futures (2003, 2004), thinking (if only implicitly) that they would be getting a traditionally bottled wine.  There are two types of risk here ­ one, can I now store your wines with confidence long-term (up to 10 years, say) with an untested means of sealing the
    bottles, and second, the very first year you do this (2003) is likely to introduce its own unforeseen problems, much like first-year models from Detroit.  One possibility would be for you to offer some kind of incentive (less money or more wine) for those willing to live with the risk associated with unknown, untested screw tops.  Unknown screw tops on unknown wine is uncertainty squared.  Of course, your prices are already very attractive, so maybe that gives you the license to experiment as you are here.  As Abe Lincoln said, "You can please some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time."

    Let me close by saying that those who buy wine futures, do so out of faith in the ability of the winemaker.  Presumably, you would not take such a step if you did not believe it was in the best interest of your product.

    Thanks for reading this far.  Looking forward to your great wines.


  • Screwcaps

  • David Coffaro, April 24, 2004