Cork producers turn to high tech to win back customers who changed to screw caps and plastic stoppers.
The battle for the bottle has entered a new era.
Cork, the traditional stopper for wine bottles, was losing out to plastic versions and aluminium screw caps but now has rallied regaining market share according to the producers.
Major producer Portugal has invested in equipment to test for the microscopic fungi that sometimes cause cork taint – which can ruin wine.
One of the biggest producers, Corticeira Amorim, uses chromatographic analysis machines which can detect the almost invisible signature of taint – the chemical compound TCA – in a few parts per trillion.
Amorim’s marketing director Carlos de Jesus says the industry is turning around: “I think when you go back 12, 14, 15 years, the forecast for cork was anything but optimistic. And I think where we are today is a completely different territory.”
Some markets may never go back – screw tops dominate in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Chile – but the French company Laroche Wines has stopped sealing its wines with screw caps. It now uses cork for all its Grand cru, Premier cru and most selection wines.
Joao Rui Ferreira, the head of APCOR, Portugal’s cork producers’ association, explained they are focusing on premium wines in what is now a much larger overall market: “The trends are very clear, the wine consumption in the world is moving from volume to value, so we are having less consumption but better consumption. The consumers all over the world have huge preference for cork stoppers compared with alternative closures.”
The turn around is particularly important for Portugal’s economy as it has more than a third of the world’s cork tree forests and produces almost half of the world’s corks.