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Murray Almond's "From the Left Island"

Taking corks for a spin
© Murray Almond
(Photos © Sue Courtney)
17 February 2002

A selection of corks - photo by Sue Courtney

The Cork Industry has gone full page, full colour and full tilt in marketing the use of cork in bottling wine. The colour magazine in the Saturday newspaper normally carries advertisements for high priced perfumes, BMW cars, Gourmet Furniture and amazing mobile phone offers. It was a surprise then to see a full page colour advertisement showing a single wine cork sitting on a white plate.

Under the heading the "There's one perfect accompaniment for every wine" the text included " our enjoyment of wine is enhanced by finding the right cork in the bottle - a real cork. Only a real cork makes you feel that the winemaker has gone to the trouble of getting every detail right".

While Cork Supplier Amorim regularly has advertisements in wine magazines and has an effective online presence; this is the first time from my reading that the cork industry has made such a splash in the mainstream media.

So what's behind it?

A look at the referred to in the advertisement provides the background. The ad is part of a campaign by the Portuguese Cork Association (APCOR) who have engaged the McCann-Erickson WorldGroup Marketing organisation "to promote and protect the image of the Portuguese cork industry, which is the largest cork producer in the world". According to the press release the multi-million dollar marketing campaign will cover advertising, public relations and online activity as well as establishing dedicated offices in the UK, USA, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France and Germany.

The big worldwide push is in addition to the domestic marketing programs by the Cork Industry. Amorim in Australia has a very well developed presence through it's website as well as the "Bark to Bottle" newsletter and Technical bulletins. It has sponsored tours for journalists and columnists, including James Halliday, to inspect the cork industry in Portugal. Len Evans, one of the leading figures in the Australian Wine Industry, was also engaged as an ambassador for cork.

The need for all this marketing is because of the growing acceptance of alternative closures for wine than the cork. This growing acceptance is not coming through the marketing programs, but in their performance in comparison to the shortcoming of cork as a closure for wine. This is particularly the case for screwcaps which was initiated in a serious way by the Clare Valley makers, and then taken forward and advanced by the New Zealand Screwcap Initiative.

Cork is an inconsistent seal for wine, as anyone who has inspected a case of 12 year old wine will know. Different levels of ullage and the odd leaker on inspection, and when opened, the odd oxidised bottle and the probability of encountering a TCA-tainted bottle, all compound the issues that the cork industry needs to address.

The cork industry is putting money into research to improve the performance of cork, and initiatives such as the "Twin Top" have shown to better performing than natural cork in initial trials, however this does not address all the issues that cork has to address.

The Cork Industry wants us to follow their recommendation in saying in the advertisement "So next time you buy a bottle of wine, insist on a real cork".

My view is that it's the wine that matters, and I'll insist on real wine as a priority over real cork. I want the maker to use the best seal possible, and one that provides a consistent, effective seal that doesn't not carry the risk of bringing taint into the bottle.. Currently cork does not provide this to anywhere adequate level as far as I'm concerned, and it'll take more than millions of dollars of marketing to make me think otherwise, it'll take proven performance.

Murray Almond

© Murray Almond
17 February 2002

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