To open a bottle of Vina Robles wine, sometimes you need a corkscrew—and sometimes you just need to unscrew. So you might be wondering why we use corks on some wines, and screwcaps on others.
The wine screwcap was first commercialized in the 1970s, but failed to gain traction in the California wine industry for the next 30 years. But that all began to change in the early 2000s, when the screwcap quickly asserted itself as a legitimate closure for fine wines.
So what changed? A few things. First, winemakers were becoming increasingly engaged in the issue of “cork taint,” whereby the cork can become compromised by natural compounds that impart “off” aromas and flavors to a wine. At the same time, the screwcap took a technological leap forward, with advanced materials and breathable liners.
So at a moment when winemakers were growing restless with the issue of cork taint, a viable alternative presented itself in the form of modern screwcaps.
“It was a win-win situation for wineries,” says Winemaker Kevin Willenborg. “The screwcap presented itself as a serious new bottling option, and because of that, the cork industry was extra motivated to tackle the problem of cork taint. In the end, we got higher-quality screwcaps and higher-quality corks.”
For this reason, Kevin is comfortable using both corks and screwcaps when bottling Vina Robles wines—but for different reasons, on different wines.
“We know that modern screwcaps work great for wines that are lighter in style, and that are made to be consumed in their youth,” Kevin says. “That’s why you will see them on our white wines, as well as our RED4 blend. These wines emphasize vibrancy and freshness, and the screwcap does a magnificent job of preserving these qualities.”
For our heavier red wines, however, Kevin still prefers a cork closure. “Heartier wines are meant to evolve in the bottle,” he says. “With a high-quality cork, I know that we’re going to get the ideal rate of oxygen diffusion to ensure that the wine evolves well.”
According to Kevin, a first class cork provides reliable natural breathability in the form of “micro-oxygenation.” This allows oxygen to slowly permeate the wine over time, allowing the flavors and aromas to develop in the bottle, and enabling the tannins to soften along the way.
“New screwcap liners are being developed that may get us even closer to duplicating the micro-oxygenation rate of cork,” Kevin says. “There’s a lot of experimentation going on, but the jury is still out on long-term aging with screwcaps. It’s not a leap we’re prepared to make yet.”
Other factors come into play as well, namely tradition. “For a lot of people, when they open a $50 bottle of wine, they want to see a cork in it,” Kevin says. “And I can’t blame them. Corks have been the traditional closure for wine for centuries. People are familiar with how wines evolve in the bottle with cork over time. There’s a very real romance and sentimentality when it comes to corks.”