Close Call

14 March, 2014

Despite reports of its demise, cork is still very much alive and kicking as the wine closure of choice. Jamie Goode assesses its fortunes – and checks out the competition

In 2005, the world’s most famous wine critic, Robert Parker, made a series of predictions about how the wine world would look in 2015. These were published in US magazine Food & Wine, and included some thoughts about the future of wine bottle closures: “I believe wines bottled with corks will be in the minority by 2015… Stelvin, the screwcap of choice, will become the standard for the majority of the world’s wines.”

While he was spot on with some of his other predictions, unless we see a fairly seismic change in the closures market over the next 12 months, he got this one wrong. But most of us would have, at the time, agreed with this prediction – a decade ago, cork’s days looked numbered.

And this is probably the big news in the closures market at the moment – the lack of a significant move away from natural cork. “It’s such a departure from what people thought five years ago,” says Carlos de Jesus of leading cork company Amorim.

Synthetic closure manufacturer Nomacorc has demonstrated how the closures market has changed over the period 1999–2012, the time that it has been in the market.

In 1999 cork was the dominant closure type by far, with 95% of the market (this includes technical corks such as agglomerates), with screwcaps just 3% and synthetics 2%. By 2012, significant inroads had been made by screwcaps (27%) and synthetic corks (17%), but cork still had 56% of the market, which over this period had grown from 14.1 billion to around 17.3 billion.

These figures are, of course, estimates, and from one particular company. It’s almost impossible to get exact figures. For full-size (75cl) bottles, the market is thought to be around 18-20 billion worldwide each year, a figure that most closure companies seem to agree on.

What seems clear is that while screwcap sales are still growing, cork has consolidated its position, in large part led by the new generation of technical closures. New technologies for cleaning cork fragments, granules and discs to reduce taint levels has resulted in better-performing technical corks.

A particular success has been Diam, a microagglomerate cork that is taint-free and which is now being used by some Burgundy producers to seal Grand Cru wines – a significant vote of confidence.

Amorim’s De Jesus says that this year, as the largest cork manufacturer by far, it will make 4 billion closures.

Anne Seznec of Guala, the largest of the screwcap manufacturers with around 35% of the market, says screwcap sales are now 4.5 billion annually, with growth over the past year of 400-500 million.

Growth for screwcaps is mainly in Europe (which has traditionally been cork dominated), the US (where screwcaps have been unpopular for image reasons) and Argentina. Seznec reports big growth in eastern European countries and markets such as France and Germany.





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