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Embrace screwcaps, Europe - but get it right

Published:  23 July, 2008

A leading Australian authority on screwcaps has urged European producers to embrace the closure but warned: Producers have to ensure they bottle correctly or it could do real damage to the image of screwcaps.'

Peter Godden, group manager of industry development and support at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and the man in charge of its groundbreaking closure trials, told Harpers last week that he was keen to see increased take-up of the closure in Europe. If producers in some of the big European countries like France and Italy start to back it, then there will be real pressure on the big bottle manufacturers to produce the bottle we've been asking for. It's not just to do with bottle shape, it's about improvements to the lip of the bottle and small adjustments that we know could help the screwcap work better. With most of the demand just coming from Australia and New Zealand, they are reluctant to change their designs every year and keep pace with developments in closure technology.'

Godden added that producers would have to be careful about who does their bottling and where they do it. Putting wines under screwcaps can cause problems - everyone knows that now - but if you have expertise from both the bottler and winemaker, so that the bottling is done well and the wine properly prepared, you shouldn't have any problems. We've got the reduction problem sorted in Australia now, and we have lots of people with great expertise.

I've been travelling around Europe for a couple of months now, and it's clear to me that AOC, DOC or whatever rules producers are controlled by could be a problem. There are some excellent bottling plants in Europe that do a great job, but under some appellation laws the wine has to be bottled in the DO. It's easy enough to pay the guy who does the bottling to convert one of the bottling lines to screwcap, but if he doesn't have the expertise and back-up laboratory then you could see problems. I'd be uneasy about letting someone who does bottling for just 15 or 20 days a year to put my wines under screwcap. I saw something like this in Italy recently and

it concerned me.'

Godden also revealed details of the AWRI's ongoing programme to reduce Brettanomyces levels in 120 selected wineries across Australia. Overall, the level of 4-ethylphenol (one of the main causes of Bretty' aromas) has dropped by 67% in the wines produced, which are all Cabernets. We realised we have a Brett problem in Australia, and we're making very good progress on changing it,' says Godden. The latest figures are only for the 2002 vintage, and we are hoping we will see a similar reduction when we analyse the wines from 2003 and 2004.'

The programme involves a number of measures, including heating the must during red-wine pressing (to ensure released sugars are quickly converted to alcohol rather than providing food for Brettanomyces yeasts), increased cleanliness and

better use of nitrogen addition and sulphur. One interesting thing we've seen is that VA levels have also dropped,

by 35-40% in some cases,' added Godden.