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Wine as the winemakers intend, that’s the thinking behind the growing adoption of Stelvin Closures. David Pike opens the debate.

CONSUMER acceptance seems to be one of the major stumbling blocks in the great Stelvin (Screw Top) wine closure debate.

The problem of cork taint is not going away and many wineries are itching to get wines out under a Stelvin closure. Many, however, are still worried about the acceptance of wines bottled this way by the wine-loving public.

In an effort to ensure that wines are reaching consumers in the desired condition, wineries and winemakers are turning to Stevlin closure in increasing numbers.

It was in the late 1880s that an Englishman called Dan Rylands was credited with the patent for the screwcap. Whisky producers White Horse introduced the device with immediate success –doubling sales of its brand in less than six months. The Stelvin screwcap for wine bottles was developed by the French in the late 1950s. They began trials in the late 1960s and continued for the next decade or so. The most significant trial involved a leading Bordeaux Chateau Haut Brion, the red wine bottled under a Stelvin proved to show adverse effects, and it was this test that led to wine being bottled this way for airlines from 1977. It was at this time that Yalumba here in Australia commercially released Pewsey Vale Riesling under a Stelvin Closure. Yalumba was the instrumental force in the introduction to Stevlin in Australia. However, consumer resistance led the winery to cease bottling Pewsey Valley Riesling this way. While many other wineries have been holding trials during the past 20 years, it wasn’t until the winemakers in the Clare Valley got together and collectively chose Stelvin closures for their rieslings in 2000 that the debate started to again momentum in Australia.

Here in WA, ‘Portavin’ bottling services recently acquired and have fitted their first ‘Stelvin closure’ machine to their mobile bottling line. Peter Walker from Portavin says the demand for the service has been good and is very much on the increase.

He says Portavin has invested around $170,000 on the new equipment and plans are in place for another Stelvin closure machine for the business’ static site, which should be in place towards the end of February or early March next year.

“The mobile unit currently is bottling between 90 and 100 dozen per hour and most of our clients are bottling riesling”, Peter says.

When introduced, the static line will be able to handle around 500 dozen an hour, which will suit many producers putting wines such as the volume driven ‘Classic White wines’ under a Stelvin Closure’.

Larry Cherubino from Houghtons explained the winery was putting in a Stelvin machine early next year, but added that such a machine has been at Houghtons since 1980 and that “many of the Frankland River Rieslings since then have been closed with Stelvin”.

Howard Park winemakers James Kelly and Michael Kerrigan are happy with the results of the 2001 Howard Park Riesling under Stelvin and said that they would look at the possibility of bottling some of their Madfish wines under the screwcap Stelvin closure next year.

Vasse Felix winemaker Clive Otto says there remained a number of considerations to be addressed before Vasse Felix will look at bottling some of their Classic White, Semillon Sauvignon Blanc under Stelvin.

“To use the same burgundy-shaped bottle we are using now is still too expensive as a screw top coming in from New Zealand,” he says.

“At the moment there is around a 45c difference. If Australian glass manufacturers ACI can bring the cost down on supply of the burgundy screw top, and if the bottling line could bottle fast enough, I would then seriously consider the Stelvin option.”

Gavin Berry, Plantagenet’s winemaker, says that 70 per cent of their 2001 riesling has been bottled under Stelvin.

“Next year we will look at 100 per cent, depending on consumer reaction and we are also looking at bottling our 2002 Omrah Sauvignon Blanc under Stevlin,” he says.

“I don’t think there is a problem convincing premium wine buyers into purchasing wines with a screw-cap, but I think it will be harder to convince consumers at the budget end to buy wines with a Stelvin seal.”

The primary aim for Stevlin Closures is to significantly reduce the number of wines that suffer from cork taint and premature aging or oxidisation. However, while it seems Stelvin closures are providing less of a risk, they are not without their own problems. The metal casing can be ‘pinged’ or dented, which can cause the seal to fail and affect the wine.

Questions also remain about the bottling procedure, and how some varieties will age under Stelvin.

With the number of wines affected by cork taint not declining, any positive method to alleviate the damage cause by tainted wine would be a step in the right direction. The cost of tainted wine to wineries is not simply replacing the bottle to the consumer who has identified a fault.

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