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Global success for twist top wine


Kim Crawford Wines ◊ Lawsons Dry Hills Wines ◊ Forrest Estate Winery

One year on from the launch of New Zealand’s first quality screw-capped wines, the concept’s pioneers are experiencing a global surge in demand for superior tipple in twist-top bottles.

Both Auckland–based Kim Crawford Wines and Marlborough’s Lawsons Dry Hills Wines have switched entirely to screw caps for exports of their 2002 vintages to key markets, including the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. Lawsons is also using screw caps for 100% of its deliveries to Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Hong Kong and Singapore.

At the same time, Forrest Estate Winery in Marlborough has bottled 50% of this year’s exports in screw caps, including 100% of its deliveries to the United States and Australia. Both Forrest and Lawsons are using exclusively screw-capped wines when supplying the New Zealand domestic market.

All three producers maintain that, by eliminating cork taint and minimising oxidation, screw closures help emphasise the fruity, natural taste that is a hallmark of New Zealand’s quality wines. They also credit screw caps with sealing-in the wine’s taste and with helping it grow old gracefully.

“We were always confident that screw-capped wine would be accepted by a large percentage of quality-conscious drinkers. Even so, we’ve been amazed by the popularity of the new closures in just about every market of any significance,“ says Erica Crawford, Executive Director of Kim Crawford Wines, the first New Zealand label to launch a screw cap wine in August last year.

“In particular, we’ve been astonished by the success of screw caps in the United States. New Zealand wine producers are currently just scratching the surface of this huge market. Our experience has been that screw caps give us an extra edge in the US, positioning us as innovative, ‘out there’ mould-breakers from a country that is unencumbered by excessive reverence for tradition. It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of this type of branding in so brand-conscious a country as the United States.

“Screw-topped wines have also scored a major hit with wine lovers in the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as here in New Zealand. In all these markets, there’s a sophisticated younger generation of wine drinkers, who are much more interested in the quality of the wine than in the ceremony and mystique traditionally associated with corks,” she adds.

According to Ross Lawson, Manager of Lawsons Dry Hills Wines, the international wine media and an increasingly well-informed public have set much of the pace for the acceptance of screw tops, with distributors often following rather than anticipating the trend.

“There are still a lot of traditionalists for whom the pop of a cork is an integral part of the enjoyment of wine. But there’s also a huge percentage of wine drinkers who appreciate the advantage of eliminating the sour mustiness of cork-tainted wine,” says Mr Lawson.

“We’ve been particularly gratified by the success of our screw-capped exports in continental Europe, which tends to be a more conservative market than the Anglophone countries. Europeans have long used screw-topped bottles for some of their budget wines but, until now, they haven’t associated screw caps with wines of quality and distinction.

“Nevertheless, we’ve even succeeded in marketing our screw capped wine profitably in Italy with its millennia-old winemaking traditions, albeit that we continue to supply the ultra-conservative German market solely with wine in cork-sealed bottles,” he says.

John Forrest, Managing Director of Forrest Estate Winery describes the global response to New Zealand’s screw-capped wines as “simply fantastic”.

“In Australia, our move to twist tops has certainly improved our market share of busy bistro-type restaurants. That’s understandable, as waiters don’t tend to have all that much time to waste on ceremoniously removing the cork from a bottle or, for that matter, coping with customers’ complaints about cork taint.

“An important consideration is that our 2001 screw-topped wines are still absolutely fresh, with great vitality and true varietal character. In contrast, wine bottled last year under cork closures is now starting to get a bit tired,” he says, adding that all the evidence shows screw-capped wine staying true to character for longer than wine bottled with corks.

As Erica Crawford points out, the advent of screw closures initially prompted some negative comment from those who feared that the new development would jeopardise the international standing of New Zealand’s wine industry.

“Given the decades of hard work and dedication which went into building up our industry’s reputation, there were bound to be some concerns expressed over so obvious a break with tradition. However, we didn’t rush blindly into adopting twist-tops. We studied global trends, including the Australian wine industry’s screw cap successes, and we made sure we understood the scientific and technical implications of the change we were planning.

“We firmly believe that screw caps represent the future for our industry. We’re proud to have been in at the start of this new chapter and we’re delighted at the large number of other New Zealand labels that are now opting for screw-capped bottles for at least some of their wine,” she says.

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