One of the great advances of the new millennium has been the proliferation of screw caps as closures for wine bottles, replacing the traditional cork.
While cork certainly is traditional, and the popping sound it makes when being removed from a bottle has long been music to a wine lover’s ears, it has some inherent problems. Some corks become tainted quite early, while others dry out and develop cracks that allow air to seep into the bottle. Neither scenario is good for the wine, and so-called “corked” wines can ruin a good meal or an entire evening.
While screw-caps aren’t 100 percent fool-proof, they do a much better job of protecting the wine. Yet because the first wines to receive such closures were on the low end of the quality spectrum, the screw-cap closure became associated with “cheap wine.” It’s an example of technology influencing the perception of wine, and in some cases tarnishing the reputations of vintners. It has taken a great deal of education to turn consumer perceptions around, and some folks still stick up their noses at screw-caps.
Another technological advancement that continues to be met with some skepticism is the rotary fermenter. I first saw the machine at Geyser Peak Winery in Sonoma County. Winemaker Mick Schroeter explained that it was a way to manage the “cap” of the fermenting juice – the gathering of grape skins that have floated to the top of the fermentation vessel and formed a thick “crust” – without the need for stirring or “pump-overs” through hoses. In essence, it was a form of automation, removing the human (i.e., labor) element from the equation.
Some opined that the technology was removing the craftsmanship from winemaking. But as Schroeter pointed out, the vintner still needs to decide when to turn the rotary fermenter on… and off.
My opinion? The best wines today are being made by vintners who not only understand the available technology, but also when to use it… or not.