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Amenities, Supplies, Services,Marketing,Rare Rant,Wine,Wine Related Products

Plastic corks are going to be the death of me

It all began at a bridal shower, when I had brought some wine. Had I known the wine that I purchased had plastic corks, I wouldn’t have bought those brands. (I’m creating an unshopping list in my head as I write this.)

I forgot to have a corkscrew in my purse… I usually travel with one, but not this day. Most families don’t have a “waiters'” corkscrew in their homes. They seem too intimidating for most people, but they’re so simple. I once watched a neurosurgeon butcher a cork as he tried to open a bottle of wine. I was thinking, “Thank God that’s not my skull.”

I came home and wrote, “Removing the Cork 101.”

So, anyway, I’m at this shower, and I had to use this one, pictured to the right. When I tried to remove the cork from the screw after opening the bottle, I must have spent ten minutes giving it my best shot. (I’m not one to fail a task, if at all possible, least of which is removing a cork from a cork screw. Gimme a break!)

Then, I was handed the next contraption, and this is called the “Rabbit.” Same darn problem. Try removing the cork from something so internally constructed.

Just try, I dare you. It’s nearly impossible.

Same thing happened at the Windsor Wine Century Club meeting, with Jim Caudill just about spraining his wrist, trying to remove the cork from the waiter’s corkscrew. He did it quicker than I had at the shower, but not without us discussing it first.

Although a waiter’s cork screw is easier than the other two types to remove, it was still nearly impossible getting the cork off the screw part.

Now, I’m reminded of my frustration, again, as I just opened a bottle of wine to sample so I could write about it, and “clock it in” as a new variety on my Wine Century Club form.

Open letter to vintners using plastic corks to close your bottles of wine

Dear Vintners:

Yes, it’s really cutesy to have all kinds of reasons why you’ve chosen to use this particular cork to close your bottle of wine, including right on your corks; but, nope, I’m not liking it one bit.

Give me cork from a tree… a tree with a life cycle of 300 years as a renewable and biodegradable source, over this land fill crap that man is creating (which will last for a million years), over nature’s own closure… Cork.

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60 Responses to “Plastic corks are going to be the death of me”

  1. Jon Bjork says:

    I also really hate those extruded synthetic corks. One took out a Screwpull I’d had for years. If there is a desire to avoid TCA, then please just put a screw cap on it.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Good to know I’m not the only one, Jon.

    America… Land O’Synthetics… Petroleum products… Dependence…

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    Looks like I’m in good company, Vinogirl.

  4. Totally agree! Hate those things! Plus you can’t stick them back into the bottle because they swell up! I like cork okay (if it doesn’t have TCA) but I don’t mind a screwtop, also.

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    Steve, I’m really surprised that so many other wine professionals feel the same way. Amazing.

  6. TomTom says:

    I’m right there with you. I’ve destroyed a Screwpull and the worm on a Rabbit while opening synthetic-corked bottles.

    I greatly prefer natural cork, but I know what those cost – I really don’t mind a screw cap on everyday wines.

  7. Tim Wilson says:

    Not only are they a pain to extract, and next to impossible to re-insert, they (at least in the lab trials I have done with multiple closures on a Central Coast pinot gris) can lead to more rapid degradation of free SO2 levels in bottled wine. In other words, without adequate free SO2 in the bottle, the wine ages more rapidly (too rapidly in those trials). I refuse to use them on my wine…

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    TomTom,

    Thanks for taking your time to voice your opinion of these plastic closures.

    I’m amazed at how many cork screws have been destroyed by them. Hum…

    I was moving right along loving the screw caps, too, until I took a minute to think about the environmental consequences, and this came on the heels of a trip to Portugal, where cork trees are just part of their landscape/terroir.

    Being environmentally conscious is something I’ve been doing since I watched my grandmother washing out used plastic bags, and reusing them in the 50s. When I stopped using aerosol cans in the 60s, I thought, “What impact is this going to *really* have?” Now, it’s 50 years later, and I have that answer.

    I know that in 10,000 years, none of this is going to matter. But, for now it does, as I think about what my children and grand children are going to inherit from my use of things that have to go through a serious manufacturing process.

    This is my cross to bear, also. I’m not advocating for everyone to do as I do. My blog is just a place for me to think out loud.

    I understand that in manufacturing, there are many byproducts. Cork trees are an oak tree, BTW. Their life cycle includes feral pigs in Portugal eating the acorns and mushrooms while grazing daily, leaving nitrogenous waste to fertilize both. Allowing the famous black pigs to roam produces Portugal’s pork products… Free range…

    I’m back to corks as a way of life and appreciation for the least environmental intervention and impact.

    It’s probably important to see a cork forest during harvest to have the same dedication | appreciation. I was given that gift… and am committed to cork now.

    Plastic is a problem, when one can’t get it out of the bottle… without breaking something.

  9. Jo Diaz says:

    Tim,

    I’m with you and Steve on the fact that many of them can’t be reinserted into a bottle, once it’s been opened (which is hwy they’re so hard to pull out in the first place). I didn’t realize about the rapid degradation of free SO2 levels in a bottled wine.

    I can’t help wonder how long they’ll continue to be used? Probably for a while, because some vintners are willing to cut their costs. Thankfully, you’re not one who is willing to do that. I checked out your LinkedIn profile, so I can add you to my shopping list.

    (I’m not outing you, out of respect for your privacy, since you didn’t mention for whom you work, or your own brand ;^)

  10. rew says:

    i’m restraining myself here – i’m a sommelier and open many bottles. I cannot imagine why you people have so much trouble w/ these. Somehow I think you are working for the cork companys because it’s just not that hard to pull these corks out w/ any of these wine openers. We should have a wine bottle open-off, can’t think of a better word. There seems to be a massive lack of knowledge w/ people that like to write about wine on the internet. You don’t find this in restaurants or at a winery?? I don’t know why that is.

    Most huge wineries use synthetic corks and most use extruded which is proven by tests to be easier to pull out of a bottle than natural cork and takes less muscle than to unscrew many screwcaps. Screwcaps are put on very tightly and need a lot of torque to open up because the seal can be broken easily. Also there’s sulphide redux which happens w/ 10% of screwcap bottles and isn’t as obvious as TCA. I’m in San Francisco – let’s get together and see how difficult it is to open a bottle of wine.

    Large wineries do lots of testing on everything and don’t use synthetic corks blindly – they use them because there is no tca, no reduction and are generally easy to pull. Seriously – buy a cheap bottle of smoking loon and pull it – so simple and so easy.

  11. rew says:

    One more thing – the extruded corks are recyclable Level 4 – throw in the bin recyclable. Natural cork is not and will not biodegrade for something like 300 years. It starts natural then is treated w/ – i think parafin, so unless you’re making a dart board or art work out of it, it does not go back in the ground like decaying vegetables. they need to be collected and ground down and that just doesn’t happen. I know amorim is trying to do that but like most things, the industry and consumers don’t know about each other. Lots of misinformation out there just like these comments.

  12. Jo,

    perhaps you and your readers should consider checking out http://www.facebook.com/100PercentCork where there are more than 17,000
    people who feel the same way. Then you might want to take the
    Cork Pledge at http://www.100PercentCork.org.

    Our goal is to educate, recruit and organize wine consumers to urge winemakers and retailers to use more natural corks and fewer artificial stoppers, such as metal screwcaps or plastic stoppers, in part because of the overwhelming environmental benefits of natural cork over the alternatives.

    Thank you.

  13. Jo Diaz says:

    Rew…

    I appreciate you taking so much time to voice your opinion.

    I have to correct you on one thing that you wrote, though… “There seems to be a massive lack of knowledge w/ people that like to write about wine on the internet.”

    I’ve been in the wine industry as a publicist for 18 years. I’ve worked for Belvedere Winery, Grove Street Winery, Barefoot Cellars, Mondavi Winery, Ironstone Vineyards, and K-J.

    I have 60 college units dedicated to wine sales and marketing (which includes enology and vit with industry professionals from Sonoma County). That translates to 15 classes. There were 16 weeks for each course. I spent 20 hours a week studying and attending for each = 320 hours. Those 320 hours x 15 courses = 4,800 of studying wine. I believe I’m at least as educated as a sommelier, if not in other minute details as a sommelier…. Then, lets talk about my 60 hours a week for the last 18 years.

    I’m not an armchair opinion… I’m telling it like it is.

    Yes, we could have a bottle opening contest… Would it prove that either of us is more professional than the other. Nope… It would just be fun to get to know you better, and we could share war stories.

    My work at Robert Mondavi was as a wine educator. I’ve educated about wine in 40 of our 50 states. I’ve traveled to Europe to learn about – then teach – wine. I’ve organized panels and conducted seminars with my panel members (Kent Rosenblum, Dave Pramuk – one of the owners of Robert Biale Winery, Mike Phillips of Michael~David Winery, Greg Lint – president of oak Knoll Winery, Paul Foppiano of Foppiano Vineyards… that list goes on… And, I’ve taught the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society memmbers, consumers at the Santa Fe Chile Fiesta, Florida Wine Festival… the list is endless, it seems.

    So, this isn’t arm chair chatter. This isn’t someone who opens a bottle a week, or even one a day.

    Did I mention that I founded and am the executive director of PS I Love You, the advocacy group for Petite Sirah, for which I travel the country and open any of my 80+ member bottles and pour, educate, and sample Petite Sirah in ways that no one else has the luxury?

    I’m not the picture that you painted of someone who is suddenly on the internet, and becomes an instant expert. I’m considered an expert by my peers… These guys will all vouch for me… Jim Concannon, Randall Grahm, Lou Foppiano, Carl Doumani, Robert Brittan, Paul Draper, Paul Dolan, etc. http://www.psiloveyou.org for one of my list of internal pals…

    The people who have commented on these corks are also industry people. We know what we know, and no one here – except this new 100PercetCork.org addition – has an invested interest in what we’re writing or how we’re feeling.

    We simply seem to be in accord that most of the plastic corks are a pain in the butt. Just sayin…

  14. Jo Diaz says:

    100PercetCork… Took the pledge a while back. Thanks for getting this movement started.

    My trip to Portugal was a real eye opener. I wish everyone who loves wine could take that tour… It would make a huge difference.

  15. rew says:

    Jo – got it – thanks for your resume. i am a big fan of the petite sirah group -i’ve told so many people about it.

    so many of the winerys you’ve worked for use synthetic and it’s not only because it’s cost effective, it really works – and it works all over the world. to be honest, american’s are more caught up w/ this discussion than any other country. all of the old world countrys use synthetic and are cool with it. the 100% cork facebook page is b.s., just read the crud that guys writes. it’s inconclusive and not cause and effect – read the mission statement, it’s not about the great natural cork, it’s about destroying alternative closures. I mean really – portugal’s industry isn’t hurting – they now sell 20 billion closures a year which has increased every year despite economic pressures. hence, the pigs will be alright and they are employing more people every year. they sell it well – well enough to get you us on this horse to downgrade everything else and talk about their struggling economy.

    sounds like you just got back from portugal as one of my colleagues pointed out. i get it – i love natural cork too and see i a place for synthetic and screw cap. i’m not villifying any of them as you are for reasons that escape me. funny thing w/ the co-extruded corks, the longer they’re in the bottle the easier they are to put back in the bottle just like natural, if that doesn’t work, turn it over and it will go right in. you can’t do that w/ natural because bacteria grows on it where as it does not grow on the co-extruded. there is lots of information that is not discussed here.

    i read an example of what jancis robinson wrote an article about synthetic cork -speaking of knowledgable people making armchair opinions. she said that she went to her child’s bakesale and someone had wine. they opened it and had a tough time w/ it (fyi – there are many different kinds of synthetic cork which are manufactured and extract completely different). that was it – they had a tough time pulling the cork so she wrote that synthetic corks should not exist. this is a master sommelier with no education about packaging and no research, saying most likely this inexpensive (read cheap) wine didn’t go w/ the rice krispy cakes that my daughter made and darn it there i was pulling out a plastic cork and it wasn’t as easy as i wanted it to be. she actually said they had to throw out 20 bottles of wine because they opened too much! sounds like she needs some ‘help’ in estimating her crowd. that a ton of wine to pen up and not use and and having that much trouble pulling it out. at least tell us what kind of ‘plastic’ cork it was since you’re a master somm.

    when you get time – please addres the biodegradable issue – because all of those natural corks are going into landfill. and may i suggest asking someone other than the natural cork p.r. group. maybe talk to a lab or a mobile bottler.
    at least there’s a chance that people will put the synthetic cork into their blue bin. contact G3 and read their report about the lbs of pressure required to pull a synthetic vs. a natural. also what are your thoughts on twin disc and 1+1’s which make certain that all wines get at least a low level of tca. or that really good cork can cost over $2.00 for just one cork. mind you that even the really expensive corks can be harder to pull out than the synthetic. but i’m still a fan and i prefer to see it on certain wines, price points, and wines that i will lay down for more than 5 years. how many consumers don’t even know there wine has tca – they just think ‘i’m never going to buy this wine again’.

    i’ve heard some completely wrong ideas from wine educators. one time i was at a tour just north of st. helena w/ 50 people in these large caves, a question was asked about barrel toasting and the ‘educator’ laughed and told the guy in front of the 50 people that they only toast the barrels in kentucky where they make bourbon.

    fact is – i’m in awe of your experience. you’ve made it your life to research so much of the science that this industry is about and yet you say you broke the tine on your rabbit and therefore all synthetic corks should be banished from earth. i’ve googled your name and really enjoyed what i read – great intellect with sound ideas and thinking.

    i’m just suggesting that more goes into a blog than these statements w/out some educated research. even if it’s just stating that certain plastic corks are tougher to pull than others. i read heresay not science here. and that’s why i assumed you were a non-industry person, however, i apologize if that seemed offensive. let’s grab a glass sometime and talk about wine – i will buy the first round.

  16. Jo Diaz says:

    rew… lots of ideas here, and lots to talk about in response. I’m going to take a short breather, because hunger pains are telling me it’s time to step away form the computer.. that I’ve been sitting at since 6:00 a.m.

    This wasn’t the first plastic cork that frustrated the heck out of me… It was the *last,* for the time being.

    I will address TCA, because it happens, and – as you said – people just think it’s the producer’s wine, not that it’s off.

    Not to worry… As I wrote all of that, I thought, “that’s probably what I should exchange for my ‘About’ page,” because saying that I used to photograph rockers in the 80s is less relevant than it used to be…. but a heck of a portfolio, none-the-less.

    Let me come back to this in the morning, because you’ve raised great issues… And the black pigs are divine…

    Until later, and I’ll buy the second round.

  17. Wine Kat says:

    Ok, I have never blogged before (probably for a good reason) but just had to comment after seeing a couple of the comments above and to share my “Pro Cork” viewpoint.

    Education and knowledge is the remedy for misinformation. There are many sites for gaining knowledge about this subject (including the one above http://www.100percentcork.org ) and learning the truth about the positives and negatives between the closure options that are in the market today. I don’t think Rew understands where many of the wine bloggers come from to make comments on this subject. Many of the wine bloggers that comment on this site come to the table with a few credentials and most with years of industry background. They are also are sharing what they have learned or opening a dialogue for a topic of interest or concern. Specifically, Jo Diaz is a dear friend of mine, so I personally know that her list of credentials is lengthy and diverse, especially within the wine industry. We worked closely together for a number of years at a well known Sonoma County winery. She is liked, well respected and has also been instrumental and influential within industry. I wish I had just a small percentage of her energy, drive and passion for life.

    I don’t know which restaurant Rew works for but as a sommelier I have no doubt that he has a great deal of experience opening a bottle of wine. His opinion is credible but unlike many of us he has had a positive experience with synthetics. I do know that Jo has also professionally and personally opened her fair share of bottles over many years (as have I) and there is nothing more frustrating than breaking a corkscrew or worse than that, the lip of a bottle to get a synthetic cork out. Also, if you notice, with age, synthetic corks will harden further and then what usually follows is oxidation. Forget trying to re-cork the bottle with that same cork.

    I have always been a fan of natural cork (no one is paying me to say this) but while working for a well known winery in the 90’s, I learned about the evils of TCA. We had a bad batch of corks from the late 80’s that were tainted and primarily placed into one of our most popular Chardonnays. It became quite frustrating, to say the least. So, I was enthusiastic about seeing synthetic as an alternative option but soon realized that there was a down side or two. The synthetics were difficult to open and then reuse. I became further disillusioned with synthetics, when I took into consideration the environmental impact. Then, I began learning about the many natural cork options and treatments for the corks from the forest to end the end product to combat the TCA (an issue that these days that is very minimal). Did you know that TCA can also come from other areas besides cork, i.e. bottle storage, card board boxes, etc?

    I do not know which huge wineries Rew is referring to but having worked in the restaurant, wine and cork industries and I have seen first-hand, throughout the country, how ineffective and frustrating the synthetic corks are within all areas of the wine industry. I also know, first hand, that there are many large wineries that made the switch to synthetic. Many of these wineries have since switched back, for a variety of reasons, primarily oxidation (there are many studies and data to support the oxidation issue). Years later, the cork industry has been effective in reducing TCA issues to a minimal percentage, so many wineries are coming back to the original closure…the cork that is naturally cork.

    I am not a fan of screw caps either but I accept that they are being used by wineries that feel they are choosing a less expensive alternative for their wines (not necessarily the case). These wines are usually meant to be consumed today or in the near future, otherwise there is the danger of “Sulphide Redux”. I still can’t be sold on it for natural ageability, for that I will always choose cork. There also is the issue of the use of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions in making these products. Alternatively, as a renewable and recyclable resource, I have a difficult time understanding why everyone is not jumping on the band wagon. This is the only closure that is organic, biodegradable and renewable. Has Rew ever heard of cork flooring? This is a hot item in the “Green” world these days, among many other uses.

    Rew specifically mentioned Amorim: I do know that as the largest natural cork producer in the world, Amorim leads the industry by example and does not waste any of the cork during production (again, I am very much in the wine industry but not on the cork payroll). Beginning with the forests to the end product, they are very environmentally conscious…from high grade to the granules used for composite corks on down to cork flooring and other cork products…even the dust is used for fuel. Take a look at what is happening with ReCORK America http://www.recorkamerica.com (sponsored by Amorim) who has teamed up with Whole Foods to recycle corks throughout the country. Now tell me again that cork is not recyclable!

    After becoming educated within many areas of the industry, having a love for wine and this planet, I am now and will always be 100% pro cork!

    Please keep me in the loop for the wine bottle open-off!

  18. Lorrie S. LeBeaux says:

    Jo,

    I’m not fond of them either. Just give me a screw cap for an everyday bottle of wine!

  19. steve says:

    Hey Jo,

    We use the Neocork because even as small as we are we save over $6K per year (think vacation for the children). No TCA is an added plus. We have wines back to 03 and “cork taint” has never been a problem.

    Enjoy your breather,

    Steve

  20. Jo Diaz says:

    Hey Steve,

    If you get a break with the kids, I can’t mess with that one ;^)

  21. Jo Diaz says:

    Wine Kat,

    Welcome into “Bloggers Comment Land.”

    So, anyway… it’s so cute seeing you defend my creds. I actually enjoyed writing them out for rew, because I realized that it could replace/update my “About” page, instead of what I now have there. Rew acknowledged that I’m credible… having taken the time of Google me… I could have been blowing smoke. Not everyone knows me or my passions, and he’s right about many people are just starting out and are writing their new process… Learning as they go, and entertaining their peers, who are also in a learning curve, and not ready for some of the intensity that my years in the business will bring to my writing.

    A lot of what I write is also business-to-business, but this one was just pure frustration with all of the issues you brought up, and I don’t give a rat’s patuty for plastic corks anymore. I’ve reached the end of my rope with them, and just simply put it out there.

    What’s really ironic is that I just wanted to write a short story (for a change) about my issue; and, the time I didn’t spend writing it as a long, drawn out, proof substantiated story has still had it become a story that’s taken a lot of time within the comment section writing. Too funny!

    Thanks for defending me, Ms. Kat. You’ve been in the business longer than I, and gave me a great shot at becoming who I am. For that I love you dearly. So… anyway….

  22. Jo Diaz says:

    Lorri… My preference is yous… Cork first, screw caps second, and plastic as a third, but I’d love to simply avoid the plastic.

    Sorry, plastic industry… I wish I could say I love your products for corks, but I can’t say that…

  23. Brad Alderson says:

    As a winemaker who has literally used millions of these plastic plugs, but never will again, we hate them too. They are terrible, hard to open, (actually dangerous we had bottles break and cut the consumer) and the really dirty secret is that they do not have a good shelf life. Wine degrades in as little as 6 months with one. The cork industry has cleaned up and you rarely see a corked wine in a vintage past 2003. The reason they won’t go away is cost, they are cheaper by 3 to 4 cents than the lowest cost composite cork or a screw cap, and 7-10 cents cheaper than the lowest cost straight cork. That adds up to 35 cents to over a dollar a case and even for a small or medium sized winery that can be real money in todays market. Complain as you have and don’t buy wines with them.

  24. Jo Diaz says:

    rew,

    Good morning… So, while in Portugal, I got to visit a small cork farmer. I got to see (and photograph) a really hard working crew. They live and work in the countryside of the Alentejo. It’s very rustic, barren – in a lot of ways, because it’s very dry in the summer – and I was there in the fall just before the rains. It was honest labor for honest, hard working men. No fat cats, no chemicals, very much a farm… and therein lies the charm.

    Regarding Jancis… She may have come to the end of the same rope that I have… Sometimes, when one reaches a boiling point and there’s plenty of water in the pot, the cover just blows off. I can’t speak for her, but I can for myself. I can’t make myself love something I’ve finally dismissed as being way objectionable… regardless of all the pros for the other pros who make great cases for their own beliefs.

    So, nothing else matters to me about any other issues about this or that or the next thing… after having slept on all of your thoughtful items.

    I’m giving you props, because you really took it on, and poured your heart out. I respect you for your opinions and your own insight/experiences, and the time you took to add more information to this blog posting. You took a lot of time to write about things relevant tot his issue. You’ve been a great contributor to this one.

    Not everyone is going to feel as I do, I know. but if the number of respondents is any indication of a non-scientific poll… plastic isn’t winning, cork is, and screw caps are an alternative that aren’t raising so many eyebrows.

    When we enjoy that drink together, it will be fun to see what kind of closure we can put on this issue… Good pun, huh, if I do say so myself…

  25. Jo Diaz says:

    Brad,

    Thanks for contributing. I’m just not seeing many professionals loving them.

    I can see someone getting hurt while opening a bottle with the last one that made me write this blog post. It was that kind of tightness that put me over the edge, and made me blow my stack.

    I appreciate your thoughts.

    It’s currently 8 to 2, with one response from the cork industry. That one is not being counted, for the obvious reasons.

  26. Wine Kat says:

    Jo,

    So anyway…you have such great passion for what believe in and I love that about you. That’s one of the reasons we hit if off so well. I would love to write more but as you can see I have a tendency to become a little long-winded.

    I do have to add to my statement about the wineries that use screw-caps. For most, I’m sure that it does not come from an economic position but perhaps compounded with wanting to “play it safe” and protecting their investment from problems, such as TCA (having had issues in the past). As I mentioned, there have been so many advancements with the growing, production and treatments of cork, I hope that these wineries will consider the negative impact that screw-caps are having on the environment and re-visit the options and benefits of going natural with cork.

    So anyway…take care and keep up the great work!
    XO
    Kat

  27. Jo Diaz says:

    Kat,

    Where would be without our “So anyway”s? How many laughs did it bring, and continues to be our own private link.

    Lou Foppiano told me that his screw caps cost an arm and a leg as compared to cork… so, they’re not cost saving, as you noted. I didn’t get into it yesterday, but did think about Louis when I saw that comment. (I was running out of steam, having just returned from the East Coast, and neglecting all work during that time. I’m now playing massive catch up, and headed to New York later this month…Yup, my dear, let’s Email about this one.)

    So… Corks have become much more clean, and you’re right… I hadn’t even thought about it, but I’ve only had one TCA experience in the last five years or so… and am just realizing it. You don’t think about the wind until it starts to blow… Great point!

  28. Fun read, Jo. And when I see a synthetic stopper I cringe as I know my Rabbit doesn’t do well with even removing it from the bottle. Give me cork and give me freedom to quickly open that bottle of wine. Screw caps are easier but still not my favorite, yet.

    Cheers and looking forward to opening another bottle of wine with you.

  29. Jo Diaz says:

    The score, for those of us conducting research, is now 9 to 2, in favor of corks over plastic wine stoppers.

    Thanks for weighing in, Sondra!

  30. jimmy says:

    now I know where the name “cork dorks” came from

  31. Wow….

    Jo: Great post/discussion. I almost choked on the cheap chard I was sipping when I read this article. I had the exact same thing happen to me at my in-laws two weeks ago. Cheap plastic closure, cheaper generic corkscrew (brand new, mind you). In the end, although we were able to finally declare victory and enjoy the spoils, it was a ugly battle from which no one walked away unscathed, least of all the corkscrew (bless it’s soul). I swear I got tennis elbow from trying to pull that sucker off, until the tine of the screw finally snapped with a faint little bleet of sadness.
    That being said, I have to agree with rew that everything has it’s place, friggin annoying, petrochemical based, plastic closures included. Many of them work very well in my experience (although its tough trying to figure out how much fight they’ve got in them when your staring at the bottle in the grocery aisle). Also have to agree with rew’s perspective on the 100% cork stuff. Personally, I love corks. Probably the best overall closure there is, especially if you count tradition and aesthetics. But come on guys… 100% corks, all the time? Seriously? That’s just crazy talk. And then they’ve gotta go and start picking on screw-caps? Them’s fight’n words to me, cause no one puts screw-caps in the corner… No one. Screw-caps are the new kid at school who is just trying to get along and make friends. We don’t need the quarterback of the football team taking pot shots just because he’s feeling a little insecure over a the TCA infection people are whispering he gave to his cheerleader girlfriend. Not cool.

  32. Richard says:

    Jo,

    Thanks for an interesting post – as a sort of, sometimes, winemaker – I do not like the synthetic and/or plastic and/or composite corks. And, as a disclaimer, I do not work for or have any interest in any of these companies – cork, non-cork, bottles, etc. And I echo Brad’s comments – corks are more cost effective and they allow my wines to age – my Cabernet was meant to age and with plastic or composite, it simply doesn’t do that…

    Another issue: on my ‘rabbit’ corkscrew, the instructions actually say “do not use on plastic or composite corks as such use may damage…” or something like that… I personally use a waiter’s corkscrew and while I have never had extreme difficulty opening the composite/plastic corks, I simply don’t like them as a winemaker.

    Cheers!

    Richard.

  33. MontadoDefender says:

    This is a good debate, but Rew should be more forthcoming and not just say he’s a sommelier. Isn’t he also the North American Sales Manager for Neocork Technologies, which makes plastic wine plugs?

  34. Jo Diaz says:

    Chris,

    I’ve had the same tennis elbow effect with plastic corks… I now have a huge sigh when I take off the foil (which is no longer foil), when I see plastic. I have to brace myself with a mental, “Okay, here we go again.”

    Some of them do work well… also agreeing with rew, but – as you’ve noted – you’re never going to know which ones, as you stare at the line of wine lined up in any store.

    And, yes, there are no absolutes, but I do know what I’m favoring, and I’ve made it clear it’s not plastic.

    So, I can put you into the favoring cork column, allowing for others, too.

    Funny new kid on the block, so noted.

    10 to 2…

  35. Jo Diaz says:

    Richard,

    I did NOT know that about the rabbit saying, “No plastics,” so there you go. I’ve never purchased one, but have used them in places. K-J had one behind the counter, because they were selling them.

    Give me a waiters’ cork screw any day. I love that whole process.

    11 to 2…

  36. Jo Diaz says:

    Jimmy, welcome to the conversation and the club… for cork dorks… ;^)

  37. Jo Diaz says:

    MontadoDefender,

    This has become hysterical. I’m trying to catch up on work, because I took some time off, and feel like I’m still on vacation… leaving work to wait for stuff to settle down.

    You’re very funny…

  38. jbrown says:

    pathetic, if you have to struggle with a synthetic cork to open a bottle or remove it from a worm than you shouldn’t be drinking. a rabbit! a rabbit! there is $50 wasted when you could have spent it on a better bottle of wine.

    you aren’t wine lovers, you are weak and sad fetishists, i imagine you all own special crystal ware that you can only drink with a certain wine. clueless.

    go back to smoking cigars or whatever you whiners did before you started letting the blogs and spectator tell you what to think.

    bah..

  39. Jo Diaz says:

    jbrown,

    You’re the best!

  40. DCKeegan says:

    I had a good chuckle after reading this blog and the heated discussions that followed. I, too, get ticked off when I discover plastic under the foil, but not to the point where I will avoid a tasty wine. I purchased a whole case of the stuff. I found a somewhat funny way to reduce the struggle and avoid wrist injury. I sprayed the worm with Pam. It slid right off with no risk of carpal tunnel. I suppose you could substitute with olive oil, bacon grease or even KY. Just a suggestion for the time you are forced to work with plastic.

  41. Jo Diaz says:

    I’ve been chuckling through this entire process, too DCKeegan.

    My lord… Pam, olive oil, bacon grease, KY… What a great shopping list. It’s almost obscene!

    LOL

  42. rew says:

    42 comments and 5 tweets later:

    Wow – this has been fun. and i do sell bottles and have much experience w/ neocork and have studied others – nomacork (also excellent) and the nukorc (terrible), supreme, and many of the others that I suspect you are struggling with. Plastic corks are as different as Petite Sirah made from diff producers in different countries. JBrown – you rock!

    a few missed yell backs at me: I get that everyone has wine industry experience what you don’t have is closure experience – you group
    everything into the same category like jancis. Jo – I’m loving your
    politicians approach to getting along w/ everyone – it’s great and
    well respected. I believe synthetics are around 35% of the market,
    and screw caps are approx 12% – contrary to what you read in
    consumer mags and wine blogs. And natural is still far and above
    the highest and charging an arm and a leg for it. albeit – you can buy
    agglomerated corks (lots of tca), screw caps and synthetics all for
    around the same price. most people don’t notice the closure, they open wine and drink it.

    even the guy that says his wine went bad in 6 months. isn’t it possible that
    you mis-bottled? millions of these bottles are out on the market for
    years. Groth and thousands of other winerys have been successful in using these closures for many years
    and continue to do so in their SB. Buy one and pull it w/ your wine key,
    it pulls nicely and you can put it back in the bottle. The wine taste great.
    Specific problems are bumping up your S02 for cork absorption,
    vacuum pull and others. Many people make mistakes when bottling
    regardless of what closure they use but the closure always gets
    blamed.

    yes – that’s why i brought up amorim – their program about recycling
    cork was what i was referring too, cork walls, cork floors, cork cruets.
    all great – how many natural corks from consumers are getting
    recycled – nearly 0. however, have definitely improved winery
    recyclability. co-extruded plastic corks are getting recycled!! yes,
    it’s true, believe what you read. i’m looking forward when they make
    keyboards and computer screens out of hemp because plastic
    is the devil. what else is in your immediate vicinity that’s made of
    plastic – look right now.

    Speaking of Credibility – Brad A. but still – come on Brad- you haven’t had a corked bottle since 2003.! Have you been clean and sober the last 7 years? the only natural cork that i’ve seen that really seems to have limited the tca is diam which is a great cork. i experience corked bottles every week. i have so many
    storys of winemakers saying tca no longer exists – because they too drink
    the koolaid that you’ve had. we pop open some bottles and i can smell it.
    maybe i’m particularly sensitive. BTW – The Wine and Grape Symposium,
    all I can say is Wow, very impressive. You have used so many synthetics
    and you call one out, can you name it for us or at least tell us how it’s made
    so we compare apples to apples – maybe it will explain the degredation in 6 months and broken bottles? That’s like comparing woodbridge to
    lafite – it’s all the same, i broke a bottle using one of them so they all suck.
    that woodbridge cab makes a great housewine, just like my 1st growth over
    here.

    i was at a tasting w/ a nice expensive napa cab – it was his prized wine
    and everyone was drinking it but not saying anything. i told him quietly ‘tca’- and he didn’t believe me. let’s open another bottle and compare. oh yes, this one is completely different and so much better. the wine i’m speaking of has to have a natural cork(seriously) – and he paid a lot of money for it. i’m not saying put something else in there – i’m saying it exists, it’s a part of nature. i know portugal would have you believe that it’s comiing from an unclean winery and not from them, but it exists – it’s a natural product. i’m just asking you be realistic – the all or nothing attitude is so 1980. haha. before re-acting, re-read. i’m not attacking the cork industry – i am trying to figure out what specifically you are talking about since they’re all different and present an idea that life is not the 2 pro 10 against that’s presented in this blog.

    whoops, time has run out – i need to go polish my special crystal.

  43. rew says:

    oh geez, i’m so freakin long winded. i forgot this:

    100% Cork Mission Statement:
    Mission:We are committed to ending the environmental destruction of plastic wine stoppers and aluminum screw caps and restore the balance of natural cork.

    There is no IMBALANCE?? most synthetics and screw caps are recyclable.

    and if you read what this person writes it follows this thinking of bashing everything that’s not natural cork, regardless of what kind of natural cork, the glues they use, tca doesn’t exist it all comes from the winery.

    why not talk about the improvements made, or the beautiful and rustic way of life. in sales – when you go about selling a product by bashing the competitors – well, it makes you and your product look that much better and respectable. the best products don’t bash their competitors.

  44. Jo Diaz says:

    rew,

    Thanks for keeping the humor (and opinions) going.

    Politician’s approach.. It’s what I practice daily, because in a past life I JBrown’s twin.

    As I read your comments, I was looking through the bottles of wine I’m cataloging for my next Wine Century Club, and polishing up a Ravenscroft glass that I’m bringing with me, to try and compare it against Riedel and Eisch…

    JBrown, if you’re in my Sonoma county neighborhood (Aug 11), you’re invited to join us. Your humor would add so much to our tasting. I’d love to gather your tasting notes on the wines we’ll be tasting, and create that all important parallel universe.

    rew: if you’re in the neighborhood next Wednesday, you can come add your comments, too. These five wines will be on me, through the samples of wines I’ve been gathering. It’s not about the wines, we’re learning, it’s about who’s got the funniest stories.

  45. Jo Diaz says:

    rew,

    You’ve given the cork guys a really good approach for future success. (Maybe they’re so tire of being bashed, that they’ve just come out slugging. When my back’s against the wall, I slug pretty hard myself ;^)

  46. 100% Cork says:

    Recyclable is not the same thing as a renewable and sustainable resource, which is what cork represents. Our point is very simple: Small decisions add up. We think choosing cork is one of those small decisions. Here are three independent assessments of how that desicion plays — one from the Audubon Society, one from the World Wildlife Fund and one from PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

    Audubon: http://www.audubonmagazine.org/features0701/habitat.html

    WWF: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/cork_rev12_print.pdf

    PWC: http://www.corkfacts.com/pdffiles/amorim_lca_final_report.pdf

    We invite everyone to read for themselves.

  47. 100% Cork says:

    Thanks for posting our mission statement. Our point is simple: Small choices add up. And choosing cork in wine is one of those small choices that add up to something good for the planet. Cork oaks are harvested every decade or so; during the intervening years, they absorb millions of tons of greenhouse gases and provide habitat for wildlife. The cork oak forests are one of the world’s largest bio-gems.

    We point out the environmental benefits of cork versus plastic and metal closures because we believe people should know how everyday choices affect the planet their children will inherit. Recycling extracted resources is not the same as being renewable and sustainable. Plastic stoppers result in nearly 10 times more greenhouse gas emissions than natural cork during a 100-year period; aluminum screw caps are responsible for 24 times more emissions during the same time frame.

    But don’t take our word for it. Please take the time to read through independent assessments — from the World Wildlife Fund, the Audubon Society and PriceWaterhouseCoopers — and come to your own conclusions.

    WWF: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/cork_rev12_print.pdf

    Audubon: http://www.audubonmagazine.org/features0701/habitat.html

    PWC: http://www.corkfacts.com/pdffiles/amorim_lca_final_report.pdf

    As for questions about taint, reputable cork producers don’t shy away from it; in fact, they’ve made huge strides in reducing it, as even cork’s harshest critics will acknowledge. But let’s be honest: Not all bad wine is the fault of the cork – and screw caps and plastics have their own issues. No closure is perfect. Nothing in life is.

  48. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for weighing in. and, as you’ve stated… Nothing in life is perfect, but I’m perfectly happy to endorse cork…

  49. Jo Diaz says:

    100% cork… This statement that you made, “Small choices add up” is a very powerful message to anyone.

    In 1960, when I decided to stop using aerosol cans, because of cholo and fluorocarbons, I thought, “What impact am I really going to make?” Now, it’s 50 years later… when I reflect on all the cans I used back then, and the pile that would be today… what a mess.

  50. Try pulling a synthetic cork out of a bottle you’ve had in the fridge to chill. Almost impossible! I too support cork or screwcap. Some vintners claim they use synthetic corks due to price. You can get less expensive corks, which are the equivalent of particle board, but at least you can get them out of the bottle. I’d love your “unshopping” list, because I’d like to avoid wines with a synthetic cork. It’s not something you can tell by looking at the bottle since the foil hides the cork. Maybe we need clear foils?

  51. Jo Diaz says:

    Oh… the cold thing. So few Pros, and plenty of cons.

    12 to 2, in favor of cork versus plastic

  52. bunt marker says:

    Whiners
    Just break the bottle neck off against a curb, or switch to screwcaps. You can see those, no surprises. There’s no law against strippin the foil off a bottle before you buy it. Or, hey, drink wine that costs more than ten bucks. Duh! Must be a low creativity day to waste time in front of the keyboard whining about plastic corks. Yeah, I know, I’m wasting time reading it- but it’s late, I’m bored, and about half in the bag, so I’ve got an excuse. There is so much to bitch about in the modern hippy-vs-corporate-wine-world, like RS, high alcohol,Robert Parker,velcorin, Helen Turley, biodynamics, adulterants…not to mention Lexus drivers and climate change. Wineries that use plastic do it because it’s cheap and never taints their wines. Imagine that. They have issues with it too. Maybe you need a dyke in the house strong enough to open a bottle. They’re fun at parties, too, and they’ll kick the — of any dude that bothers you. Like me. Sincerely, A Dude.

  53. Jo Diaz says:

    Dear A Dude,

    I love a great dose of humor. Great way for me to start my morning… Thanks for stopping by.

  54. rew says:

    Thought I would look back and see what was added – funny comparison your pile of aerosol cans compared to using synthetic cork that’s recyclable. i can understand complaining about plastic – since everything around us is made of it, but when you have something that is Level 4 recyclable and the product you endorse is not – is there a missing link, or do you and mister 100% not think about what you’re saying. you toss around words like green and recyclability but your information is false.

    Nothing in life is perfect – yes finally, each closure has it’s own purpose, you say something educated in one breath then swear that cork is biodegradable or that plastic corks will ruin the earth in the next.

    I read this interesting article that dates back to 2002 that supports your cause: Weber says if plastic takes over 15 percent of corks used worldwide, which could happen by 2015, the European cork industries will crumble and take the cork forests with them. Cork for wine brings in 70 percent of the income, he says. Even with other uses for cork, like floor tile and shoes, it won’t compensate for the loss of wine revenue, Weber says. As a result, economic pressures could force farmers to convert their forests for other uses, like eucalyptus timber farms or more intensive farming. This would not only disrupt the natural ecosystem and increase erosion, but also require far more water.

    plastic is closer to 35% and where is portugal? have they crumbled? have they lost revenue? no – they’ve grown substantially since then to 20 billion!! Please read that again that’s 20 billion and they could continue to be extremely profitable w/out all of the garbage cork they make that’s probably the top reason there’s so much tca in wines these days. Every week I talk to a winemaker that has had a terrible problem w/ tca.

  55. Jo Diaz says:

    rew… here’s the deal… synthetic corks that are recyclable take a lot of energy to get them back into some other form of reusable plastic.

    Cork is biodegradable in its purest form. (I never thought I’d be standing up for the cork tress, but there you are… I’m a tree hugger.)

    Cork will simply, and naturally deteriorate, left to its own devices.

    For this, I’m inordinately grateful.

    Watching the science channel to see how the earth has come into being, more than once, I can believe that it will become a fiery ball once more, and everything will be melted to obliteration… plastic, cork, and screwcaps…

    So, does this all really matter a billion years from now? No.

    Does it matter now when I see garbage/waste piling up. Yes. I’d enjoy for my grandchildren to have as garbage-free life as they can have.

    I was raised in a manufacturing community, where everyday I saw fumes billowing from smoke stacks, while Bates Mill, Pepperill Manufacturing, Knapp Shoes, etc. hummed 24 hours a day with three distinct shifts. (Maybe that’s why I’m so nuts about anything that smacks of pollution… the smoke got my brain.) It’s made me super sensitive to non natural products, and nothing is going to change my mind… like nothing is going to change your mind… about plastic corks versus those coming from a cork tree.

    For me, TCA is more tolerable, as I see much less of it now my wine dealings.

    Going to Portugal and seeing how modestly these farmers live, and their honest hard working ethic to bring it all together has me believing.

    I did NOT visit under the auspices of the cork industry. We were driving in the Alentejo, passed a cork plant, stopped there and asked if I could take pictures. This was my introduction to a family business, with great images of real people sweating in the sun.

    If it’s natural option, I’m in.

    If it’s a synthetic cork that I have to wrestle with, I’m out.

    We can still share a glass or two of wine to hammer this thing out, but it may have to be one of those “agree to disagree” moments.

    It’s just personal preference, when it’s all said and done… and even how it all started.

    ;^)

  56. rew says:

    So how did the wine tasting go last night?

    Has anyone actually read the articles that Mr. 100% Landfill puts out? The links he gave us are a great learning tool – if you read them.

    http://www.acfnewsource.org/environment/cork_crisis.html &
    http://assets.panda.org/downloads/cork_rev12_print.pdf
    2006 – Titled Cork Screwed
    Weber says if plastic takes over 15 percent of corks used worldwide, which could happen by 2015, the European cork industries will crumble and take the cork forests with them. Cork for wine brings in 70 percent – it won’t compensate for the loss of wine revenue. As a result, economic pressures could force farmers to convert their forests for other uses, like eucalyptus timber farms or more intensive farming. This would not only disrupt the natural ecosystem and increase erosion, but also require far more water.
    That was 2006 – synthetics and screw caps combined are over 40% and the cork industry hasn’t crumbled – it’s only gotten bigger – 20 billion big! and wine consumption has grown, it’s not fixed.

    Too Funny:
    http://www.audubonmagazine.org/features0701/habitat.html 2002
    1) I don’t know anyone that calls Portugal and complains about TCA? most customers sitting in a restaurant don’t complain about it and that’s the problem – kind of the elephant in the room, let’s act like it doesn’t exist.
    2) the Iberian lynx is among the closest to extinction, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. Only about 100 survive. This is based on the idea that 70% of the cork business is for wine and other closures will kill this lynx.

    http://www.corkfacts.com/pdffiles/amorim_lca_final_report.pdf 2008
    Exactly opposite of what the guys in 2002 & 2006 said: Page 15
    – 30% of the treated cork is used in cork stoppers.
    – 70% of the treated cork is to produce other cork products.

    Page 26 speaks to the high gas emmissions and non-green output. plus you might consider the transport of products being shipped in portugal to the US and other parts of the world when we have local products made here – if we’re considering that arguement – I mean why bring it up.

    From Page 31 – Recycling of cork stoppers has not been taken into account since it is not significant.

    Products used on cork: Paraffin and Silicone oil/ polydimethylsiloxane. The fact is you don’t pull it off of a tree and stick it in a bottle. There are chemicals used which also make it not biodegradable. Pages 35/36

    From a chart on Page 41: Final destination of Stoppers

    Cork Stopper 100% landfill

    Aluminium Stopper 32% recycling 68% landfill

    Plastic Stopper 19% recycling 81% landfill

    You said: Maybe they’re so tire of being bashed, that they’ve just come out slugging – This campaign started as least as far back as 2002! So I don’t think this is anything new or anyone’s been bashed. Only winemakers upset about TCA.

    Sounds to me like a big smart corporation that puts a dying lynx on the cover of their paper that tells the world – poor me. So BP is on top of the heap right now – have you seen their ads lately, they are so warm and cozy, just like panda bears. We will be defending them in a few years if they do such a great job – there is no more oil in the water and it hasn’t harmed our seas.

  57. Jo Diaz says:

    The wine tasting was excellent in one breath and hysterical in the next. There’s something very funny about Jim Caudill, and when we all get together, it goes way beyond tasting wines, as we look like the wine geeks that have been mentioned throughout this thread… except there’s a lot laughing out loud. We’re probably not good restaurant guests. (Yikes!)

    So, I give in. I’ve met my match. I’ve always wondered what that would be like.

    You really should start blogging, because I think you’ve got focused opinions and a lot to back them up.

    I had to approve your Comment this time, because you had so many links, my WordPress gurus decided this must be spam, not a comment session.

    And now, to go find out about that lynx…

  58. Dan says:

    I support regular old corks! It’s a shame that occasionally you have to play tug of war with a wine bottle to get the goods. Nice read.

  59. Jo Diaz says:

    I agree, Dan. I just did the tug of war again… nearly cursing my way through it… sadly. (Sorry, plastic cork companies, but I’m NOT a fan.

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