New Zealand is known for its exceptional-quality sauvignon blanc, but what it may be best remembered for 30 years from now is transforming the way the wine world seals its product.
New Zealand’s winemakers have been at the forefront of helping their peers say goodbye to cork taint by replacing the natural-fiber closures with screw caps.
The process began about 40 years ago in neighboring Australia, when Peter Wall, production director of Yalumba contacted French manufacturer, Le Bouchon Mecanique (literally translated as The Mechanical Stopper) in a quest to eliminate cork taint in his wines and maintain freshness.
The French food industry had been using a screw top since the middle of the 19th century, but in 1959 a specific cap was adapted for wine bottles.
While the French may have led the way in design and production, their customers were less accepting of a wine closure beyond the traditional natural cork, as were wine drinkers around the world.
However, in 2000, when a group of Australia’s Clare Valley winemakers began using this modern seal for premium wines, others took notice.
This immediately got the attention of New Zealand winemakers, who were already researching a solution to taint caused by cork closures.
In February 2001, Marlborough winemakers began investigating using the screw cap as a seal, as were winemakers outside the region. In a logical evolution, they joined forces to create the New Zealand Screwcap Initiative.
The first commercial release of New Zealand wine with a screw cap was by Kim Crawford, quickly followed by Jackson Estate and Villa Maria. Today, it’s estimated that wines in screw-cap bottles represent about 85 percent of New Zealand’s production.
The initiative continues to gain momentum as winemakers around the world switch to this closure.
- 2011 Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, (about $12 retail)
- 2011 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $18 retail)