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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Christian Davis

Stephen Henschke, maker of Hill of Grace, one of Australia's most famous wines, has called on the wine industry to eliminate the millions of dollars of wine destroyed by poor quality cork and redirect it into researching a new generation of closures. Henschke is the latest winemaker to back Stelvin closures in favour of traditional cork. All of his 2002 whites, with the exception of Chardonnay, will be under Stelvin. Ten percent of his Henry's 7 Shiraz/Grenache/Viognier blend is under Stelvin, but that is expected to rise to at least 50%, and the Chardonnay will probably have Stelvin next year. Henschke told Harpers that the variability of cork and merits of screwcap first came to his attention and that of his wife, Prue, who is a botanist and Henschke Cellars' viticulturist, when they were studying at Geisenheim, Germany's famous oenology university in the mid-1970s. Henschke acknowledged Yalumba's pioneering of screwcaps, describing its early bottlings of Pewsey Vale as still absolutely glorious'. By 1996 I was so sick of cork,' he said, I bottled a couple of pallets with screwcap on the basis that in ten years' time it would be accepted - it has happened much more quickly than that.'' Henschke's first trial with screwcaps was with the 1995 Keyneton Estate Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon/ Malbec. Comparing the cork and screwcap versions, there were pronounced differences. The cork Keyneton appeared more aged with garnet hues, while the screwcapped wine appeared younger and was more crimson in colour. The cork Keyneton looks two years older,' said Henschke. In flavour, the screwcap wine was fresher, fruitier, leaner, had more grip and the Cabernet appeared more prominent than in the cork Keyneton version, which had the marked aged, oaky characteristics you would expect from a quality wine of this vintage. Henschke said: We should work to eliminate the millions, maybe billions, of dollars of wine destroyed by cork - it is frightening. We should put that money into researching new closures. Customers are paying $200-300 retail, only to find the wine is corked - it's insane. There is too much defensiveness over cork.' Henschke believes a new closure for red wines needs to be developed which allows for oxygen to age' the wine and thus give the wine the complexity' from oxygen ingress through cork that traditional wine connoisseurs seek. He suggested some kind of widget' similar to that used in beer cans, where nitrogen is introduced to beers such as Guinness, giving it its traditional draught-style' creamy texture and tight head. The widget would constitute a form of in-bottle micro-oxygenation. Australia has led the way in changing wine tastes and now it is leading the way in changing the packaging,' said Henschke. Europe won't do it and California wants to be like France so they won't do it. You make a beautiful bottle of wine and then put it under a smelly cork. It doesn't make sense.'