Screwtops come of age
I’ve written about and praised Boisset’s PET bottle and so has my magazine, Wine Enthusiast, which earlier this year awarded Jean-Charles Boisset the “Innovator of the Year” prize at our annual Wine Star Awards.
Now Boisset has won yet another prize, the coveted AmeriStar Award for Beverage Packaging.
“The Boisset Family Estates’ Beaujolais Nouveau PET bottles are shatterproof and include a convenient screw cap for anytime, anywhere consumption,” the presenters said, also praising the package’s green, recyclable qualities.
Screwtops have come a long way in a short period of time. I also read today in Decanter that screwtops now make up 15% of all the wine sold in the world.
When California wineries widely started bottling in screwtops, about 5-6 years ago, I used to note that fact in my reviews. Generally, I conceptualized these into two categories:
1. If the wine was inexpensive and good, I’d say something like “Good value in a screwtop.”
2. If the wine was expensive and good, I’d say, “Don’t be put off by the screwtop; this is really a good wine.” I felt the need to reassure readers, because I knew that consumers were freaked out by screwtops. They thought they reflected a cheap, nasty wine.
It was a couple years ago when I finally stopped referring at all to screwtops in my reviews, because so many people were using them, on so many different kinds of wines, that it no longer mattered. Screwtops had entered into the realm of normality; it didn’t seem relevant anymore to even point it out.
How far will the screwtop revolution go? This seems to be the situation: Any unoaked white wine is as likely to be in a screwtop as not, whether it’s Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or whatever. Pinot Noir is quite likely to be in a screwtop these days, and not just cheap ones. When it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, I’m hard pressed to think of any that are in screwtops, beyond Plump Jack. Randall Grahm is one of the few who’ve moved to put all their reds in screwtops, and his Bonny Doon wines really set a pace for style. It wouldn’t bother me a bit if everything was in screwtops, because at least you’d be guaranteed never to have a corked bottle.
I’ve asked a lot of owners of cult wineries if they would ever consider using screwtops, and usually they look at me as if I’d suggested they take off all their clothes and run naked through downtown San Francisco. Like, “Are you crazy?” Those who are in touch with their customer base must get feedback suggesting consumers don’t want a $100 Cab in a bottle that resembles Boone’s Farm. I’ve also been told by distributors that they hear from restaurateurs and merchants that screwtops are a no-no for expensive wine. This just shows it’s the job of us wine writers to educate the public.
I don’t know why people are so resistant to change. When you think of it, the wine industry is a very conservative place. People talk about change all the time, but there’s really very little change at all. Somebody will use a new clone, or a new technique, but the same old varieties dominate the market, bottled with the same old corks, which, as a technology, are 18th century anachronisms.
Do Millennials care about corks vs. screwtops? Probably not, and they’re the future. It’s not hard to imagine corks going the way of linotype machines within the next decade. Screwtops are greener than corks, imposing less of a carbon footprint on the world. One of these days, people will wonder what took the wine industry so long to get with the program.