Sonoma-Cutrer Pops Cork

Winery announces Chardonnay will be closed with screwcap for Texas and Nevada restaurants

by Kate Lavin
Sonoma-Cutrer screwcap
Before and after Sonoma Cutrer's new screwcap package is seen on the right.
Windsor, Calif. -- A vintner of top-selling Chardonnays is switching from cork to screwcap closures at restaurants in select markets, according to its Russian River Valley winemaker.

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards announced that Texas and Nevada diners who order the vintage 2006 Russian River Ranches Chardonnay cuvée soon will be presented with bottles closed with Stelvin screwcaps rather than corks.

Terry Adams, winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer, told Wines and Vines that he has been experimenting with different closures since 1983, and, "The one that seemed to be the most reliable for the long haul--and I do want our wines to be showing well 10 years from bottle date --it was Stelvin that was performing."

Adams started bottling his Founders Reserve Chardonnay--the label's most expensive vintage--using Stelvin screwcaps in 1999. He said the annual lot of 1,500 bottles is the label's highest price-point (the 2003 vintage sells online for $65 per bottle), so he wants each bottle to be at its best when it reaches consumers.

"I think it has to do with our credibility. I think, as a consumer, is there any product I would accept a 3 to 5% failure rate built-in? And I can't come up with one," said Adams, adding that at one point he was rejecting 40 to 60% of the corks he was sent.

"After spending a year growing the grapes, and a year making the wine, to find out that the wine has gone bad due to tainted corks is really difficult," Adams said. The winemaker estimates that screwcaps eventually will cut down the 1,000 hours that he and his staff spend on quality control each year to about 50 hours per year.

Officials at Sonoma-Cutrer decided to roll out screwcapped bottles in Nevada and Texas because high-end diners populate both places. Restaurant consumers in Austin, Texas; and Las Vegas are very food- and wine-focused, Adams said, "So these are environments where we think we'll get some honest feedback."

Russian River Ranches is available exclusively in restaurants; and Sonoma-Cutrer brand director John Hudson said, "Nothing contributes more to a negative experience in fine dining than a corked bottle of wine.…We can do something about that, and we have."

Adams, the winemaker, added that if the rollout goes well, he hopes Sonoma-Cutrer eventually will offer all its wines in bottles with Stelvin screwcaps. "It will take time to gear up with the proper equipment," he said. "We're going a little bit cautiously."
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