Winemakers in the US prefer cork to any other kind of closure, according to a recent survey carried out by Amorim Cork America, a division of Portugal's Amorim Group, the world's leading producer of natural cork closures.
The company said that the survey showed some experimentation with alternative wine closures among US winemakers, but that the majority still preferred the traditional cork closures for their wines.
The survey was carried out between 20 May and 6 June this year by independent researcher the Analytic Group, which contacted 200 US winemakers, or approximately 10 per cent of US wineries, selected at random. Amorim commissioned the survey to gauge winemakers' awareness of cork and alternative closures, and to determine their perceptions of the industry.
According to the survey results, almost three-quarters of winemakers (72 per cent) prefer natural cork as a wine bottle closure - more than five times higher than synthetics (14 per cent) or screw caps (11 per cent). Winemakers who use natural whole cork also close the majority of their wine with it - 79 per cent of winemakers close 70-100 per cent of their bottles with it.
"It's gratifying to see that the industry recognises that natural cork is superior to alternative closures," said Amorim Cork America's general manager, Daryl Eklund. "At Amorim, we enforce the most stringent quality assurance procedures to ensure that our corks perform at the standards expected to protect the investments of our winemaker customers. And we're not resting on our laurels. We are committed to developing even more sophisticated technology so that cork continues to be the closure of choice."
When choosing wine closures, 75 per cent of winemakers indicated that quality and technical performance was the most important attribute of any closure option. Findings also indicate that consumer acceptance is a key factor, as winemakers continue to acknowledge American wine buyers' and drinkers' aversion to screw caps or synthetics, the company claimed.
Not surprisingly, the survey found that TCA was a primary reason why some winemakers chose other types of closures. TCA (or 2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole as it is rather laboriously known) is a naturally occurring odorous, but harmless, compound that certain micro-organisms produce in the presence of chlorine. Nearly 70 per cent of the respondents were very optimistic that cork suppliers will successfully reduce TCA levels - the principal reason why many others (such as a growing number of Australian winemakers) have opted for synthetic or screw caps closures.
The survey found that wine taint is not as prevalent as sometimes thought, with participants reporting less taint in their own wines (0 to 1 per cent) than the perceived national average (3 to 5 per cent), Amorim said.
"A common misconception about TCA is that it is a direct result of tainted cork," said Professor Miguel Cabral, director of R&D for Amorim. "In actuality, contamination can be attributed to oak barrels, storage tanks, faulty processing equipment and clarifying agents, among others. Wine may be spoiled in other ways as well: the incorrect use of preservatives, poorly managed fermentations, erroneous acidifications, mouldy fruit or exposure to oxygen or micro-organisms."
Amorim said that it currently devotes more than $6 million (€6.1m) to research each year, with the bulk of that budget focused on understanding and reducing TCA taint.