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Hogue Goes Screwcap (July 15, 2004)

Hogue Cellars, the large Washington winery owned by Vincor International, is to go screwcap across most of its portfolio beginning in January 2005.

Following a four-year study that examined the effect of five different closures on its wines, Hogue winemakers found that screwcap closures were more effective closures than natural or synthetic corks. Jordan Ferrier, research enologist at The Hogue Cellars, presented the winery's findings at the 55th annual American Society of Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) Conference in San Diego.

Hogue's 2004 Fruit Forward line of wines, which represent 70 percent of its total production, will in future be bottled under Stelvin screwcaps with Saranex liners.

"After scientifically researching the effects of two kinds of screwcaps, two brands of synthetic corks, and the traditional natural cork, we have come to the conclusion that Stelvin screwcaps best preserve the quality of wine in the bottle," says David Forsyth, director of winemaking at The Hogue Cellars. "For us, it's all about delivering high-quality wines, and screwcaps more effectively preserve the purity of the fruit and winemaking flavours with which the wines are meant to be enjoyed."

The study was carried out using a red and a white control wine – Hogue Genesis Merlot 1999 and Hogue Fruit Forward Chardonnay 2000 – each closed with cork, synthetic Neocork, synthetic Supreme Corq, Stelvin screw cap with Etain liner, and Stelvin screw cap with Saranex liner.

At six-month intervals over a period of two and half years, a panel of Hogue winemakers and trade professionals tasted and analyzed the wines. In December 2003 the results were established as follows:

  • The wines closed in natural corks showed low to medium levels of cork taint, while the synthetic cap and screwcap wines showed none.
  • Over time, synthetic closures began showing oxidation characteristics, leading to lower levels of fruit aromas and taste, as well as browning in both the Merlot and Chardonnay.
  • Screwcap closures maintained fruit, and the wines were considered less developed and relatively fresh for both red and white wines.
  • At both 24 and 30 months, screwcaps were preferred over synthetics, which were preferred over the natural cork.
  • Screwcaps and natural cork held SO2 better than the synthetic closures.

General results for the Chardonnay found that "the Saranex screwcap closure was the most preferred, with development similar to a natural cork but with no cork contamination and good retention of fruit character. The screwcap and natural cork closures held SO2 and CO2 the best. Wine bottled in the synthetic closures was the most oxidized after 30 months, having excessive aged character and lowest fruit. The natural cork was the least preferred closure, with high 'cork-like' character and lower fruit."

For the Merlot, wines bottled in the Saranex and Etain screw cap closures were the most preferred wines. The Supreme Corq and Neocork closure wines were more developed and less reduced than the screw cap wines, and the wines closed in natural cork were the least preferred.

"Bottling our wines with screw caps will yield tremendous benefits: elimination of cork taint, as well as consistent and appropriate aging, lower SO2 levels at bottling, and greater ease in opening bottles," says Forsyth.

In 1996, Hogue became the first large domestic wine producer to bottle a portion of its wines with synthetic closures. However, this study has revealed that wines closed in synthetic corks undergo premature oxygenation, and therefore have a shorter shelf-life than natural cork and screwcap closures. Furthermore, the movement of oxygen through a natural cork is highly variable, which leads to variable aging in identical wines. Cork taint due to TCA contamination was estimated to be as much as 4.9 percent following a recent tasting of 11,033 wines at the 2003 International Wine Challenge. Additionally, over the course of three years, benchmark tastings of Hogue and competitors' wines performed by Hogue found that an average of 17.6 percent of wines were consistently corked.




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