edited by Sue Courtney
e-mail address: email@example.com
The History and Revival of Screwcaps
© Sue Courtney
13 August 2001
updated December 2004
History of the Stelvin screwcap
The Yalumba Story
On 10th August 1889, Dan Rylands of Barnsley in the UK patented the screwcap. It was some time, however, before this advance in bottle and jar closures was used on wine bottles.
I haven't been able to find a reference to the first use of screwcaps on a bottle of wine but the Whisky bottle website gives some history on the use of screwcaps and whisky bottles. It says
Until 1913, bottles were sealed with a driven cork, requiring a corkscrew to open them, like wine bottles. The replaceable cork was invented and patented by William Manera Bergius, nephew of Adam Teacher (of Wm. Teacher & Sons). Teacher's Highland Cream was described as 'the self-opening bottle' and sold under the slogan 'Bury the Corkscrew'! The screwcap was introduced by White Horse Distillers in 1926, an innovation which doubled the sales of the brand in six months, and this was further developed by White & Mackay, who, in 1960, introduced a plastic screwcap which doubled as a measure or small cup.
However, in the last 50 years, screwcaps have been widely used on wine bottles. The first seals used were found to be not satisfactory. It wasn't until the introduction of the Stelvin screwcap, developed in the late fifties by the French manufacturer, La Bouchage Mecanique and now the registered trademark of Pea-Pechiney, a French manufacturer of bottle seals, that the seal became to be recognised as a quality product.
The long skirted Stelvin screwcap was developed specifically for the wine bottle and was developed from the Stelcap design which was used on wine bottles but not specifically designed for wine bottles.
Early bottles that were capped with the Stelcap often had a cork underneath the cap.
The Stelvin and the Stelcap seals look similar from the outside. It is the inner cap lining that is the difference. Geoff Linton from Yalumba Wines explains "It is difficult to separate Stelcaps form Stelvins by externally examining the bottle & closure - they appear the same as the only difference is the wadding - the Stelcap wads, which have a cork layer covered by paper are white in colour while the Stelvin
appear silver from a tin layer which is covered by a neutral PVDC which is in contact with the wine."
Other names for the screwcaps include "Roll On Pilfer Proof" (ROPP), "Roll On Tamper Evident" (ROTE) and the Supervin product of Auscap, the screw top wine seal developed by the Australians. Auscap is now owned by ACI Glass.
History of the Stelvin screwcap
Stephan Jelicich of Esvin Wine Resources in Auckland, who represents Pechiney in New Zealand, has provided me with a history of Stelvin. I've added some additional information, highlighted in blue.
- Laboratory trials.
- Microbiology, oxidation-reduction potentials, permeability of liners.
- Product validation in laboratory, with the assistance of French oenological institutes.
1970 / 71
- First trials in Switzerland with Chasselas wine, which had preservation and taint problems with cork due to the lightness of wine.
1971 / 72
- Sealing trials with prestige wines (e.g. Haut-Brion).
- Wine stored long term in upright position.
1972 / 76
- Trials with wines from all areas of France, with the assistance of local professional organisations.
- First commercial bottling in Switzerland at HAMMEL winery.
- Australia adopts Stelvin (see History of Yalumba, below)
- Australian wineries release commercial bottlings closed with Stelvin
- Some New Zealand producers, including Montana, follow suit.
- Tasting of the trial bottling of prestige wines at top restaurants (Haut-Brion at Oliver's). Judged as tasting no different.
- At this point, most bottling for airlines turns to Stelvin.
- Swiss winemakers en mass turn to Stelvin with Saran-film-tin liner for Chasselas. They use Stelvin by the millions.
- During this period, France remains cautious.
- In 1984, the Australasian producers revert to cork, due to consumer resistance to screwcaps.
- Swiss market now over 10 million per year.
- Sutter Home in California shows interest in the product.
- Polexan Saranex liner for wines to be consumed within 2 / 3 years is launched.
- Bottle finish BVS appears with lowered thread start (2.8mm) to enable top-shaping and a better seal.
- Swiss market passes 60 million per year.
- Sutter Home uses over 10 million.
- A promotion campaign in France provides little development due to conservatism.
- Australian winemakers of Clare Valley choose StelvinÒ for closing premium rieslings. They communicate on the quality of the seal: very positive welcome by the media and a high level of acceptance by the consumers.
- New Zealand re-introduces Stelvin, along with Auscap, as part of the Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative.
Due to heightened awareness of Stelvin screwcaps in many wine consuming markets, Pechiney have had an overwhelming number of inquiries from all corners of the wine world.
Demand outstrips supply. A worldwide shortage of long skirt screwcaps for wine leads to a 5 month production lead time. Wine with screwcap closures out sell cork in New Zealand. Australia becomes the largest consumer of screwcaps for premium wine. In the UK a supermarket group stipulates screwcaps as a requirement to their new world wine suppliers and to some European suppliers.
The Yalumba Story
While many articles refer vaguely to the date of the introduction of screwcaps into Australia and articles wildly interchange the register trademarks, Stelcap and Stelvin, I asked Yalumba to provide some facts. Yalumba's Tecnhical Manager, Geoff Linton, responded with these key points.
- Stelvin was commercially introduced into Australia by ACI in 1976. It followed the release of their Stelcap closure in 1970 - the difference being the wadding material (explained in the introduction, above).
- Yalumba was instrumental in the introduction of the Stelvin into Australia. Production Director, Peter Wall, originally approached Le Bouchage Mecanique in 1964 about an alternative sealing system for wine bottles. Peter Wall almost single-handedly drove the development of the Stelvin closure.
- Yalumba and a group of other companies (Hardys, McWilliams, Penfolds, Seppelts, Brown Bros & Tahbilk) were involved in developing/proving up the concept from about 1973.
- Yalumba commercially used Stelvin in May 1977 on the Pewsey Vale Riesling. The earlier vintages (from 1971) were closed by a Stelcap over a driven cork - not a particularly successful closure combination.
- There is a bottle of 1976 Pewsey Vale Riesling in the Yalumba museum carrying the label - "This is the first bottle of commercially packaged wine in Australia with a Stelvin closure - May 1976". Geoff Linton says he reckons it is a mistake as the bottle appears to him to have a cork in it. Back then Yalumba opted for conservatism and used both a cork and screwcap. Certainly other 1976 Pewsey Vale Rieslings were sealed this way. The actual first bottling using Stelvin will go unresolved till the next 1976 tasting.
- Geoff Linton believes this bottle may be responsible for any misunderstanding regarding the first release, however he says that back in the 70s they bottled the Pewsey Vale Riesling about 3 or 4 times a year. It is possible they may have used the Stelvin closure on one or more of the bottlings and cork/Stelcap on others.
- The publication "The ACI Stelvin Story - Status Report 1979-80" reports that the Stelvin closure was "introduced to industry in September 1976" so this ties in with some of the early 76 bottlings being under cork/Stelcap and the later ones under Stelvin.
- Yalumba ceased using the Stelvin closure in late 1983 or thereabouts due to consumer resistance. - certainly the 1984 Pewsey Vale Riesling was closed by a cork closure.
The Revival Years
Some Australian wine producers have long understood the problems associated with cork, and have bottled wine in screwcaps for cellaring for their own use, for ageability trials or to send to shows. Conversations with producers such as St Hallett and Irvines Wines indicate they bottle their premium reds in screwcap for these reasons.
As far as Yalumba goes, tastings of museum stocks of Stelvin have shown how well the wines develop with the closure. In terms of Yalumba's future use of Stelvin, the intention is to continue to use it on selected bottlings of premium wines, allowing their customers to become re-accustomed to the closure. The fairly new
Contours Pewsey Vale Riesling, first release 1995, is being sealed with Stelvin. This wine is released as an aged product. Current release is 1997. An Eden Valley Riesling is also released with the closure.
But other producers have also been releasing their screwcapped wines into the market. Slowly but surely the use of the seal is gaining momentum.
Henschke experiments with market reaction with the capping of a portion of the 1996 Henschke Julius Eden Valley Riesling
Richmond Grove seals a portion of the Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 1998 and the Richmond Grove Barossa Riesling 1998 in screwcap and markets the wines in a 'special cellaring pack'. Such was the demand that the 1999 production of the Richmond Grove rieslings in screwcap was increased.
A portion of the 1998 Dorrien Estate Individual Vineyard Storton Riesling was bottled with a Stelvin seal.
The 1999 vintage saw several producers turn to screwcap
- Leasingham capped a portion of their 1999 Bin 7 Riesling
- Majella caps their first vintage of the 1999 Coonawarra Riesling
- Logan Wines cap their 1999 Clare Valley Riesling
- Orlando introduce their 1999 Steingarten Stelvin Riesling
Bethany Wines announce they will produce a collectors 6-pack of their Limited Release Eden Valley Trial Hill Riesling from 1995-2000 - all bottled in screwcap.
And it is not just white wines. Lillypilly Estate bottles their multi-variety blend 'Red Velvet' in both screwcap and cork.
However, the biggest endorsement of the screwcap seal came from fifteen Clare Valley producers who marketed their riesling from the 2000 vintage in screwcap with the catchy slogan 'Riesling with a Twist'. According to the Knappstein website, a special bottle and a special capsule, both manufactured in France were commissioned. This was not previously available in Australia. Particpating producers were
Clos Clare, Eldredge, Grosset, Jim Barry, Knappstein, Leasingham, Mitchell, Mt Horrocks, Olssen, Richmond Grove, Stephen John, Stringy Brae, Taylors, Tim Gramp and The Wilson Vineyard
Not just the Aussies
In September 2000, the Napa Valley winery Plumpjack had international released some of their top red wine, 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, in screwcap. They sold it at a US$10 increase over the same wine sealed with cork.
New Zealand joins the revolution
New Zealand producers, such as Montana, Babich and Matua Valley, have bottled wines in screwcap in recent years. 750ml bottles of their wine are used on airlines. Mark Robinson of Matua Valley said they were using the Auscap seal for this purpose.
In 2001, 28 producers have formed the New Zealand Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative.
The first wine from the group is launched on 13th August 2001 - click here to read my review of the Kim Crawford Marlborough Dry Riesling 2001.
Frustration with cork taint and the search for quality wine has been the driving force.
Click here for the New Zealand Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative information sheet
Belief in ScrewCap technology spreads
Sonoma-Cutrer of Windsor, California announces that it will close 800 cases of its US$65 Founder's Reserve Chardonnay from the 1999 vintage with screwcaps - to be released in the US autumn.
Downing Family Vineyards of Napa announces at the 2002 Annual ZAP Tasting that it will put screwcaps on 210 cases of its US$35 Fly By Night Zinfandel, to be released in May 2002.
Montana, New Zealand's largest wine company is backing screwcap technology by placing Stelvin brand screwcap wine seals on their restaurant brand 'Copperfields'. The screwcaps were requested by event organisers and caterers who handle large numbers of bottles at a time. Montana has been using screwcaps for a number of years on their airline bottles.
The NZ Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative represented 31 wineries at the recent London International Wine and Spirit Fair.
Plumpjack Winery's groundbreaking move to screwcaps for the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon did not immediately spur other US producers to the closure. The Napa producer will also the Plumpjack 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon with screwcap. The proce? A cool US$155.
And California's Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon said he will bottle about 80,000 cases of his Ca' del Solo Big House Red and White, which each retail for US$10 per bottle. Over the next few years, the winery plans to shift to screwcaps for the remainder of its 200,000-case annual production, which comprises more than 30 bottlings that range in price from $9 to $32.
Oregon Wineries are joining the movement.
Argyle Winery in Dundee are bottling their 2000 Merlot (US$30) and 2000 Cabernet Franc (US$25) in high quality Bordeaux bottles with screwcaps. Pinot Noir will follow now they have found a source for classic Burgundy bottles. Argyle is talking about investing in a screwing machine.
In Yamhill the Willakenzie Estate has bottled 15 percent of their Pinot Gris production in bottles with screwcap closures. (That's a cool 10,000 bottles).
O'Reilly Wines, another Oregon producer, say they will joining the movement.
There is no doubt more will join as technology becomes available.
Back down under, the 2001 Penfolds, Rosemount and Wynn's Rieslings were closed with screwcaps for a UK supermarket chain.
October 2002: The Villa Maria Group, New Zealand's second largest wine producer, announces that from now on all of the wines in the Group's family of brands, that is Villa Maria, Vidal and Esk Valley, will be closed with screwcaps.
Jeffrey Grosset has bottled his 2000 Gaia red blend under Stelvin.
Barrington Estate in the Hunter Valley has bottled their 1999 'Millenium' Shiraz in screwcap.
In NZ, pinot noir will become quite common in screwcap. Vidal Estate is leading the premium cabernet and merlot based red bottlings.
The Napa Valley Wine Company replace the cork unit on one of their six bottling lines with screwcap technology.
Tesco's introduce 'old world' producers' wines underscrewcap into their stores for their 'Unwind Campaign'. They include George Duboeuf Morgon, George Duboeuf Julienas and Laroche Chablis.
Domaine Paul Blanck of Alsace has just bottled theirfirst wines under Stelvin screw caps. When Frederic Blanck, the company principal, visited Australia in April 2002 he evidently said to the
Clare valley winemakers that he was against the closure so this is a major development. Wines available in Australia include the Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc 2001 and the Paul Blanck Riesling 2001.
News comes to hand that two European Producers have bottled wine in screwcaps.
The Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2001 from the Rheinhessen region of Germany has appeared in some USA wine stores in screwcaps. They evidently have a capsule over the screwcap closure and skirt top to make it less obvious.
Pea-Pechiney, the manufacturer of the Stelvin brand screwcap, announces it is purchasing a Chilean wine capping company.
Tyson Stelzer releases his book 'Screwed for Good - the case for screw caps on red wine'. This wineoftheweek.com page is referenced in the bibliography. Click here for a review of this book.
July 2003 Update
In South Africa, Vergelegen Wines are using screwcaps on some 2003 wines.
In Spain, Torres is bottling a portion of the Vina Esmeralda, a Grewurztraminer-muscat blend, in screwcaps from the 2002 vintage.
Bonny Doon's 'Big House' wines from California have arrived in New Zealand in screwcaps. Other wines from their range are available in screwcap in the US.
Calera in California is bottling half of its 2002 Mt Harlan Viognier in screwcap - as a direct result of tasting the wines at the Australian Viognier Symposium late last year.
Add the Canadian province of British Columbia to the list of wine regions around the world that are welcoming screw caps on their fine-wine bottlings. The British Columbia Wine Institute has just approved the use of alternative closures on wines that carry the British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance designation. Both cork-sealed and screw-capped wines can now qualify for the VQA label.
Hirsch Wine Estate is the first of the top Austrian wine companies to turn to screwcap. In September they will bottle three of their premium 2002 wines, the Grüner Veltliner Lamm, Riesling Heiligenstein and Riesling Gaisberg under Stelvin screwcap closures. The decision has caused much controversy amongst the Austrian wine community with Austria's oldest wine review magazine, "Falstaff" declaring it "the end of wine culture" in the editorial of their current issue.
Beringer Vineyards in the US, part of the massive Beringer-Blass wine empire, are launching a new brand 'Two Tone Farm' with a Chardonnay (USD$12) and a Merlot (USD$14) in screwcap. The release marks the first time a major California producer has dedicated an entire brand to screw-caps, according to winebusiness.com.
As the use of screwcaps spreads throughout the world, Sandra Oldfield, the winemaker at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, British Columbia, writes to advise that Tinhorn Creek is the first in Canadian Winery to use Stelvin.
"In July 2003 we became the first Canadian winery to use Stelvin. We chose a new reserve Merlot--meant to age for a long time--as the first wine at our
winery to get a Stelvin closure. We will be marketing it as a consumer trial in a two bottle box, the identical wines, one with Stelvin and one
with a cork. We will be looking for feedback from our customers on wine quality and non wine quality issues."
Paul Blank wines from Alsace, France, are now available in New Zealand with screwcap wine closures. Michael Brajkovich MW, winemaker and chairman of the New Zealand Screwcap Initiative, said that last year he tried the Paul Blank 2001 Riesling whilst in Australia. When he tried the new arrival Paul Blanck 2002 Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, all in screwcap, and said "I am even more impressed". The wines are imported and distributed by Vintners NZ.
Phillips-Hogue ( www.rhphillips-hogue.com), the US subsidiary of the Canadian public company Vincor International, who now own New Zealand-based Kim Crawford Wines, are following the success of Crawford's example and turning to screwcaps for some of their US brands.
RH Phillips Winery of Esparto, northeast of San Francisco, California, will bottle its entire RH Phillips line of wine with screwcaps. This accounts for about 300,000 cases' of wine made up of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and White Zinfandel. It also plans to transition the 400,000-case Toasted Head brand to screwcaps as well. The first RH Phillips screwcapped wines will reach consumers in June.
Sister winery Hogue Cellars in Washington's Columbia Valley, plans to switch to screw caps next year. Hogue's annual production is about 450,000 cases and includes Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet, Merlot, Syah.
Pepi Winery of Oakville, California plans to use screw caps on its 60,000-case line starting next month. Pepi specialises in Italian varieties.
Meanwhile, Bonny Doon Vineyard in California, who introduced screwcaps on their Ca' del Solo Big House wines in 2002 and extended the range last year, have announced the closure will be used across their entire portfolio. Since Bonny Doon's flagship wine Le Cigare Volant was released in screwcap last October, they say that sales increased by 40% over the previous release. www.bonnydoonvineyard.com.
Villa Maria's owner and Managing Director, George Fistonich, announces that they will turn down orders rather than supply customers with cork as they totally commit to the metal closure.
Penfolds announces that it will put its entire Koonunga Hill range in screwcap bottles. Two new Koonunga Hill wines, a 2004 semillon sauvignon blanc and a 2002 shiraz, will switch from cork to screwcap next month, followed by the shiraz cabernet, cabernet merlot, semillon chardonnay and chardonnay. Penfolds says the move is significant for red wine in the A$11 to A$19 price bracket and will make Koonunga Hill the largest brand in Australia to adopt screwcaps.
After attending Pinot Noir Celebration in Wellington last January Frenchman Michal Bettane wrote positively about New Zealand's success with screwcaps in his publication La Revue des Vins de France, which in turn has encouraged producer André Lurton to bottle three of his Bordeaux Blanc whites from the 2003 vintage, in screwcaps. Lurton says it is an 'undeniable technological forward step'. The wines are Château Couhins-Lurton (Cru classé de Graves), Château La Louvière (Pessac-Léognan), and Château Bonnet (Entre-Deux-Mers).
Burgundian producer Patrice Rion, who also attended the Pinot Noir Celebration, said in the article that one of his reasons for coming to New Zealand for the celebration was to learn more about screwcaps. Source: Wine Business Online.
Canada's Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in British Columbia release their premium Oldfield’s Collection 2001 Merlot in a stylish 2 pack which invites the customer to taste test the difference between the same wine closed with a Stelvin screwcap and with a traditional cork closure.
New Zealand wines for sale on the domestic market that are sealed with a screwcap closure have gone from one in a hundred wines in 2001, to seven in ten wines in 2004.
At the first International Screwcap Symposium held this month in Marlborough's main town, Blenhiem, it became clear that New Zealand was the world leader in the use of screwcaps.
At the symposium it was also agreed to to establish an international organization dedicated to promoting and improving screwcap wine closures.
The foundation committee will be chaired by Michael Brajkovich MW, and includes fellow New Zealander George Fistonich, proprietor of the Villa Maria Group, Jeffrey Grosset, of Clare Valley, Australia, Michel Laroche MW, of Domaine La Roche, Chablis, Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyard, USA, with representatives to be finalised from South Africa and South America.
Every trophy winning wine at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards - except for the sparkling wine winner - had a screwcap wine closure.
Villa Maria introduces a training video for opening screwcapped wines with style.
Malivoire Wine Company in Beamsville, Ontario, releases three wines in screwcap in an initiative that will eventually see all of their wines sealed with a Stelvin closure.
Allied Domecq announces they will relaunch their Montana classic range in a new shaped bottle with a screwcap closure in 2005. The change will take effect in both the NZ and the UK markets.
© Sue Courtney 2001-2004