Podcast 142 – The Nomacorc Revolution, Part 2

20140425-193418.jpg… Continued from “The Nomacorc Revolution, Part 1

So was I convinced? Did they really manage to change my outlook on synthetic corks?? Get a hint with this podcast Calli and I recorded;

In short, yes. They did. Here’s why.

Before this trip, I wasn’t convinced that there was really even a need for synthetic corks. Natural corks are renewable and natural and honestly, I like things to be as natural as possible. Cork-tainted wine doesn’t really bother me that much – I just consider it to be one of those little things in life that are annoying but aren’t worth creating a complicated solution to a simple problem. What I learned on this trip was that cork is still good, but the problems with it (cork taint and variability) can be solved with minimal environmental impact while retaining the ceremony of removing a cork from a bottle. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve done it in a way that gives the wine maker a measurable method of controlling the amount of oxygen flow into the wine after it has been bottled, which has never been done before in the history of wine making. For that reason, I believe this is revolutionary.

Screw caps have never really appealed to me for a whole lot of reasons including the strip-mining of the bauxite which is necessary to produce the aluminium. But the biggest reason is that for years it seemed to me that there was a concerted effort by the industry to get wine writers to talk about screw caps. While I totally acknowledge that this is essentially Nomacorc’s tack as well, the ridiculous way that some wine writers casually slipped in references to the de facto superiority of screw caps just got stupid. Articles would begin with things like, “Now that summer is here, it’s time to start thinking about fresh summer wines. For me, that means a screw cap.” REALLY?? The closure somehow makes a wine more palatable for this writer because it’s a twisty? Like the summer heat in the Okanagan has made using a cork screw that much more intolerable because they’ll have to use a TOOL paired with EFFORT just to get a their wine? Whatever.

20140623-235513.jpgI got sick of reading things like that in the wine media and screw caps have never been good in my books largely for that reason. (It was also partly responsible for getting me interested in starting this blog so sometimes good things can happen…) Other closure “solutions” like Zorks and Vinoloks have amounted to little more than footnotes as far as the BC wine industry in concerned. Again, they seem to be complicated solutions to simple problems and both of these examples seem to be out of touch with the realities of the world and the environment. One has even more plastic and the other is glass (or crystal) at a time when many wineries are trying to reduce the amount of glass that they use through lighter thin-walled glass bottles or keg programs like FreshTAP to reduce environmental impact.

This reality about responsibility to the environment is evidently not far from the minds of the people at Nomacorc who, throughout all of the presentations, were always keenly aware that not only is this the world in which they must operate and sell their product but also the world in which they must live. The European heritage of Nomacorc (through Belgian founder Gert Noël and current CEO Lars Von Kantzow) has really fostered an environmental awareness that permeates all aspects of their operation from product development to manufacturing and transportation. While promotion of that aspect by Nomacorc did come dangerously close at times to green washing, their own promotional literature also noted that a wine’s closure represent “less than 1% of a wine’s total carbon footprint.” In addition, Nomacorc is also not even selling their product to the ultimate end user – wine consumers – who usually aren’t even aware what kind of cork closure a wine bottle has until they peel away the foil. Ultimately, they have little to gain or loose by touting their environmentalism but I personally give them credit for being up front about it. Part of what I don’t like about plastic has to do with environmental concerns but if all companies acted like Nomacorc with their sense of responsibility, we wouldn’t have things like this.

20140623-235522.jpgSo to recap – Nomacorc effectively calmed my environmental fears regarding plastic usage and screw caps have become annoying for a the reasons described above. So what about the different effects on the wines themselves? Shouldn’t this really be all about how the wines age and evolve?

The winery where I work received an older vintage of a bottle of white that we sell. It was from the 2008 vintage and is a white suavignon blanc / semillon blend. We are currently selling the 2013 vintage but we were just about to switch from the 2012 to the 2013. With three vintages there to compare, we tried a sample of each so that we could see how this wine had changed.

In short, it had changed but not in an evolutionary way. There was still fruit on it, but very little else. It was boring. It wasn’t designed to be aged and is best enjoyed within the first 2-3 years from vintage. Anything beyond that is not beneficial. It is the wine equivalent of a faded photograph where you can still tell what the image is, but the colors have all faded and it no longer shows the vibrancy of the time. In sealing the wine completely from the oxygen that will allow the wine to evolve, screw caps have, in my opinion, only really managed to keep one element of the aging process at bay while other factors that cause wine to change as it ages remain unchecked. It just didn’t seem natural.

So screwcaps don’t let a wine age naturally like cork since it does not allow any oxygen into the bottle, but cork is problematic for consistency and quality and lets in completely unpredictable amounts of oxygen into the bottle. It would seem to me like Nomacorc kinda hits it all with their engineered corks that allow a wine maker to effectively control the oxygen rate that gets into the wine after it has been bottled. To me, this is REVOLUTIONARY! They can now tailor their wines to age in consistent and predictable ways even after the bottle has been sold to the consumer.

Perhaps I should step back a little here. Humans throughout the centuries have learned how to make wine through various accidents. Wine itself was probably discovered by accident. Someone screwed up and left a bin of grapes out somewhere and it naturally started fermenting on its own. (Grape skins have yeast cells on them naturally.) Most every style of wine (such as ice wine, sparkling wine, Port, or Madeira) are direct results of someone screwing something up. They’ve all contributed to humans learning about grapes and what makes them into wine of these different styles. As soon that we learn to control a particular variable (grape ripeness, skin contact, yeast, oxygen, etc), we can then learn to refine those accidents into spectacular wines. As soon as yeast was discovered to the be the organism responsible for fermentation (not only for wine but other things like bread, yogurt, beer, etc) humans learned to control and manipulate it to suit their needs. Different yeast strains were cultured to be more consistent, stronger, or impart certain flavors to the wines. Winemakers could control that process much more than they could before, when fermentation itself was still mysterious.

Oxygen is tightly controlled by winemakers throughout the whole wine making process at every step from grapes (using CO2 and potasium metabisulfite) until bottling the wine. After that, there was no control at all and wines were at the mercy of the natural cork (again – inconsistent oxygen transfer and potentially ruinous to the wine) and or screw cap (delicate, iron-clad barrier to oxygen resulting in “faded photograph” wines if aged).

With Nomacorc’s engineered corks with predictable oxygen transfer rates, wine makers can now predictably control the amount of oxygen their wines receive post-bottling. In my opinion, this is truly revolutionary and the main reason why I am happy to see an engineered cork in the bottle after I’ve just peeled the foil. Nomacorc did change my perception about engineered cork closures and I am convinced that they are actually onto something that goes beyond the seemingly simple task of plugging up bottles of wine. There is still more work to be done, they haven’t got it perfect yet, but they’re very close and I believe they’re on the right track.

20140623-235530.jpgBC Wineries that use NomacorcsIf there are others, please let me know…
Adega on 45th
Backyard Vineyards
Columbia Gardens
Fort Berens
Gold Hill
Krause Berry Farms
La Frenz
Little Straw Winery
Silk Scarf
Silver Sage
Township 7
Vigneti Zanatta