By: Alyssa Ochs
With wine, it’s not only important to control what’s inside the bottles, but also how those bottles are sealed and packaged. There are numerous types of wine bottle closures available to wineries today, including corks, caps, and seals made from both natural and synthetic materials. The bevy of options poses certain challenges for wine producers looking to choose the best closures for their bottles based upon cost-effectiveness, overall benefits, and current trends.
Types of Wine Bottle Closures
Corks are the most traditional and familiar type of closure in the wine industry, yet these closures come in the form of natural corks, plastic corks, and technical corks. There are also different types of caps, such as screw caps and crown caps, that serve as wine closures. A unique synthetic closure called a ZORK, wax seals, and glass Vinolock closures are also used by wineries to enhance the appearance and quality of the wine.
What Wineries Are Using Today
Every winery approaches bottle closures a bit differently, but certain closure types are increasingly popular and trending right now. Donald E. Hagge, Ph.D., a farmer, physicist and winemaker for VIDON Vineyard in Newberg, Oregon told The Grapevine Magazine that his winery currently uses Vinoseal glass closures and screwcaps. VIDON has shifted to these closure types after using corks in the beginning.
“A percentage of wines that use corks will be either tainted or oxidized after some time in bottles,” Hagge said. “Corks are used for traditional reasons in spite of their problems.”
Sean Comninos, winemaker for William Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, says his winery uses both Stelvin closures and Diam corks at this time.
“The William Heritage brand is currently 100% under various grades of Diam depending on the aging window,” he said. “We use Stelvin on our ‘Jersey Wine Collection’ brand, as these wines are meant to be drunk immediately and are more for casual enjoyment.”
Comninos said that in the very beginning, all their wines were under the same agglomerated cork. As the winery grew, it began using Stelvin closures for the Jersey brand because it made these wines more accessible and kept oxygen transfer at a minimum. The winery used Nomacork for a little while, but this closure didn’t have the ease of opening that Stelvin offered.
“We were using a combination of agglomerated and natural corks in the Heritage line for quite some time,” Comninos said. “Ultimately, we felt that even though we were spending a lot of money on premium natural cork, and we had too much inconsistency. Many bottles showed cork taint or premature oxidation. The lower end wines felt a bit cheap with the agglomerated corks. I had begun to see a lot of the corks I was pulling from various producers seemed to be made by Diam around 2014 and 2015. Not a single one was flawed, and I felt that the cork had an acceptable aesthetic quality. So, with the 2015 vintage, we switched the entire line to Diam. I’ve been quite pleased with the results due to no TCA issues, no bleed-through corks, or weird oxidative issues at all.”
Popular Wine Closure Products
Many highly experienced companies specialize in bottle closures to help wineries make the best choices for their operations.
Lakewood Cork, an independently owned and operated business in Watkins Glen, New York has been exclusively distributing Gultig Corks since 1997. Owner Chris Stamp told The Grapevine Magazine that his most popular closure is a micro-agglomerated cork called Carat. He said that one of the drawbacks of using natural cork for wine is the potential for cork taint, but with Carat, the supplier uses a patented cleaning process to eliminate cork taint issues.
“The construction of the cork provides a consistent surface that is nice for branding,” Stamp said. “In addition, this cork is one of our least expensive closure options.”
Richard Smith of Tecnocap in Glen Dale, West Virginia, said the tinplate continuous thread closure is a common closure among wineries today. This type of closure is relatively inexpensive and seals bottles effectively. Another closure that is ideal for wine bottles is Tecnocap’s Espritbonnet.
“This is a plastic closure with a customizable metal overcap,” Smith told The Grapevine Magazine. “When used with a capsule, the bottle has a similar appearance of a corked bottle. The metal can be customized with solid colors or elaborate graphics. The liner typically is an expanded polyethylene foam, but other liners can be used that match the needs of the individual winery.”
Liz Green of Mala Closure Systems in Petaluma, California, said that her company currently only manufacturers screw caps. She firmly believes that these closures are great alternatives to cork.
“We don’t like to promote any superiority in closures since the sealing mechanism can actually have a great deal to do with the final stages of the winemaking process,” Green said. “What our customer’s find is that screw caps, also known as BVS finish or ROPP finish, are often more consistent than cork and capsule. The great thing about BVS in wine is that it’s all a standardized size, no matter the volume.”
Cost-Effectiveness of Wine Closures
Every type of wine closure that exists has its pros and cons, but some of these factors are more important than others for wineries. One top factor to consider is cost-effectiveness, and companies offer a comprehensive range of closure options to fit any budget and product type.
Bobbi Stebbins of Waterloo Container, a supplier of wine bottle caps, corks, and closures in Waterloo, New York, has found that cork customers tend to have a predisposition towards natural or synthetic cork before they call Waterloo for their closure supply.
“Corks are often the most cost-effective closure, for smaller wineries especially, as they require nothing more than a basic hand corker to apply,” Stebbins said. “Natural agglomerated cork options maintain the appeal of cork at an unbeatable price point. Disc-style corks offer a ‘step up’ from the agglo corks with natural punched cork presenting at the opening and in contact with the product. Colorful PVC capsules combined with customized cork options can elevate even the most inexpensive cork to a worthwhile opening presentation.”
Stebbins went on to explain that synthetic or plant-based cork options are often able to endure more challenging storage conditions compared to natural cork. “This allows wineries to purchase larger quantities at savings while not worrying about the product expiring or drying out, which results in savings in the long-term,” she said. “Storage conditions are not always ideal; thus this type of cork option with a longer shelf life maximizes value.”
Wine Closure Trends
Trends come and go over time, yet it’s smart to learn about emerging technologies and note where the closure industry is headed. Concerning trends, Hagge of VIDON Vineyard said, “More wineries are using screw caps each year.” Stebbins has also been seeing a trend toward screw caps. Many of the company’s medium-size and large wineries are making the switch to Stelvin brand capsules.
“The screw cap can be customized to suit a brand, specific to desired oxygenation levels, and offer consistency from bottle-to-bottle that a natural product may not always provide,” Stebbins said. “The outlay cost of specialized cap application equipment may be daunting to smaller wineries; however, those using co-packers or mobile bottling services are very willing to make the switch.”
Meanwhile, Comninos has been noticing a trend of prioritizing more consistency, whether that be by use of screw caps, Diam, or some other closure to ensure that each bottle tastes the same no matter its closure.
“Every cork producer out there will say they have the best cork, but the very nature of the bark is highly variable,” Comninos said. “The days of a romantic attachment to solid, variably porous pieces of cork are over, in my opinion. I feel our customers deserve to know that they are tasting exactly what we intended to sell them.”
Comninos also believes that cans are a great closure and packaging system for certain types of wine. “Portability and smaller-serving sizes are very appealing to a broad range of people. We obviously will not be canning our higher-end products, but look for a rosé, off-dry white, and a red [in cans] from us in late spring or early summer.”
Stamp of Lakewood Cork has seen a definite uptick in demand for the G-Cap, which is a Stelvin-type closure.
“While demand for traditional corks has remained fairly strong for us, we see an increase year-after-year for this alternative,” Stamp said. “They are attractively priced when compared to a good quality cork and provide a consistently perfect seal. They are available in numerous attractive stock colors, with optional printing. Many people like the twist-off convenience these caps offer.”
Mala Closure Systems’ Green said that as with so many industries in California, there’s been a movement towards recycling and environmental sustainability in the wine closure industry. “I personally believe, and it is my experience, that this trend lends itself more to screw caps due to the fact that aluminum is infinitely recyclable, whereas cork is not,” Green said. “Corks that go into wine bottles can only be used once due to potential bacteria growth and contamination.”
Top Considerations for Choosing Wine Closures
There are many things to consider before settling on a new type of closure for your wine, and, fortunately, there are many experienced professionals on-hand to guide you through the selection process.
Stamp of Lakewood Cork said that as a winemaker, he chooses his closure based on the type of wine he is bottling. For example, he leans towards a straight, natural cork for a wine that will benefit from extended aging.
“These are more expensive than some other options, but they have a great track record for protecting wine while letting it evolve nicely for many years,” he said.
However, Stamp has found that lower-priced wines that aren’t meant to age for six or more years tend to be good candidates for Carat closures.
“Our Stelvin-type closure called ‘G-Cap’ is also a good choice, as the wine evolves differently under the hermetic seal of these caps,” he said. “I think it is important to consider your clientele’s expectations when selecting a closure. Whatever you select becomes part of the package. The package communicates with your customers.”
When assisting wineries in choosing a closure, Green of Mala Closure Systems asks wineries what their primary goals and most important values are in the winemaking process and then reminds them of the ways that screw caps can assist in that process. These reasons could range from sustainability to long-term aging of wine, wide-ranging production, marketing prominence, and other considerations.
“As this point in time, the stigma of screw cap bottled wine being ‘cheap’ is going away pretty quickly,” Green said. “This is because we’ve now had more than a decade, almost two, of wine in BVS or ROPP bottles with scientific evidence that it operates in more efficient and consistent ways than in cork-sealed bottles.”
Smith of Tecnocap’s piece of advice to wineries is to imagine that every wine is a discovery. “You want to use the best closure for your process, the varietal, aging, consistency, and the other factors which are important to you,” he said. “Take advantage of the technology today to produce your best product.”
Finally, Stebbins of Waterloo Container emphasized how a wine closure company’s thorough product knowledge and useful recommendations can shape customer experience.
“Often, the client’s brand determines the bottle and the closure, which is to say that marketing may have already determined the price point, look, and experience the winery is working to achieve with any particular bottle of wine,” Stebbins said. “The closure needs to fit those parameters to reach the overall goal. Knowledge of the customer’s brand and preference is key when guiding their closure decision.”