Let's admit it. Looking at it, it seems heretical, and it's not surprising that purists turn up their noses. But the age-old debate over the best way to stop up wine bottles must take into consideration an increasingly feisty competitor:
World leader in the design and production of screw caps for wine (invented by the French company Pechiney in 1970) is a multinational based in Alessandria, Italy?"Guala Closures. Founded in 1954, today it is present on four continents with 23 production plants and four research centers. It all began in the early years of this millennium when the countries of Oceania began to export their wines. «Everyone knows wine travels poorly» Marco Giovannini explains to Panorama Economy. Giovannini is president and CEO of Guala Closures, which for the first time was at Vinitaly with its innovative caps.
«To arrive in Bristol from New Zealand, for example, a bottle takes six weeks, going from spring to winter and across the Equator. In addition, these countries had a huge number of items, requiring enormous quantities of cork. This meant the most had to be gotten out of the cork, forcing them to push closer and closer to the ground where the mushrooms that cause the 'corky' flavor grow.» This meant that 7-12% of the bottles returned to the producer, compared with the normal 2.5%. An enormous problem for a country such as New Zealand where wine is one of its leading exports. «Experiments were carried out with plastic caps, the ones generally known as silicone caps, but they proved to be as defective as the low-quality cork ones.»
In the meantime, a study by the Australian Research Institute had declared screw caps to be the best for preserving and transporting wine. «So, during a trip to New Zealand in 2003, I proposed our caps to the government and a local producer. Two years later, the then-prime minister Helen Clark inaugurated our new plant.»
But, in addition to the shipping problem, screw caps have also solved the very high costs associated with the use of high-quality cork for such huge levels of production. «But a problem that comes after that of quality,» stresses Franco Cocchiara, wine global coordinator for Guala Closures. «While in Argentina even medium-level wines have always been closed using screw caps because of the high cost of importing cork, Austria and Switzerland have been using screw caps for years on 50% of their outputs. The primary opponents to the screw cap are Italian and French producers, the ones who have easier access to cork which is produced primarily in the Mediterranean area.»
Today, Guala Closures' clients range from Marchesi Antinori to the US producers, Gallo, the Spanish Torres and Chilean Concha y Toro, the third largest wine producer in the world. And its turnover enjoys the benefits. While in 2004 the sales of Guala Closures brand wine bottle caps were less than 400,000 euros, in 2010 they were over 49 million euros with total turnover of 370 million euros. Of the over 9 billion screw caps produced by the company each year, one billion are for wine. And Guala Closures is the only one in this sector to hold three patents, including its tamper evident?"the only cap in the world that guards against tampering and forgery.
IN FAVOR: From Europe to Australia, it is the perfect closure
«We have been using Guala Closures screw caps for a couple of years in our Santa Cristina wine cellar,» confirms Renzo Cotarella , CEO of the Tuscan-based Marchesi Antinori winery, «where we produce five wines (all white, apart from a ready-to-serve test red), for a total of 500,000 bottles and a turnover of 30 million euros out of 130 total.» For this company, the numbers are not high, but interest in these caps continues to grow, especially from non-domestic markets such as Central Europe, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands and Australia. «Screw caps are perfect, better than plastic, even though, for this reason, screw caps are not the right choice for wines to be aged, especially red ones, for which the permeability typical of cork is fundamental. Plus, resistance to screw caps is due to the various approaches of markets and consumers, but even here things are changing,» Cotarella concludes.
AGAINST: Never use a new technique just to save money
«You shouldn't use a new closure technique just because it costs less, is trendy and eliminates problems with customers,» explains Alberto d'Attimis-Maniago whose family has produced wine in Friuli since 1585. «The screw cap reduces a wine's evolution: the maturation parabola is slower because micro-oxygenation can't take place. Apart from questions of appearance, a low-quality screw cap could give a 'reduced' scent to wine, a defect caused by the perfect closure.» And there are no long-term studies on potential leaking of plastic substances into the wine. «Certainly, for a wine with little structure to be drunk within a period of six months, an alternative kind of cap could even work. But bottling with screw caps my Pinot Grigio, which in 70% of cases is drunk when it is between 13 and 18 months old, would mean castrating it. Established wineries such as ours are based on tradition, rigor and concreteness. And it is no accident that they say of quality cork: always imitated, never equaled.»