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A Question of Market

Plastic stoppers and screwcaps have not yet lost the image that sticks to them. It is quite likely that price is the deciding argument. On top of this, these stoppers are no longer taboos, even for the great vintages, in countries such as Switzerland. In the new wine producing countries, especially Australia, California and New Zealand, numerous wine producing cellars have already adopted these alternatives.

For a Swiss wine maker the cost of the different systems speaks for itself:

  • Cork: between 0.55 and 0.80 CHF
  • Plastic: approx. 0.30 CHF
  • Screwcap: less than 0.20 CHF (to which the purchase of the assembly machine must be added)

For the market, the question of quantity is also rather important. It is often claimed that cork is purposefully rare in order to cover the needs for material to produce stoppers. “Connoisseurs are well aware: the growth of the world wine production has caused the devastation of cork-oak plantations”. The sector replies: “This statement is nonsense. Annual reforestation is at about 4%. Before we had quite an extensive plantation with a low plantation density; for one hectare there were only 50 trees. Now we plant 120 cork-oaks on the same area. This means there is no danger”.

Other numbers also belie these allegations: only 60% of the world cork production is turned into cork stoppers, which currently is amply sufficient. The rest of the production is used for other purposes: industrial insulation of all kinds, in construction, even in the aerospace industry which seeks the best quality cork, for decorative purposes in wall coverings, for creating different joints and in the shoe industry as insulation and for certain insoles. Stocks for the stopper industry are consequently still very important. It must not be forgotten that in the last harvest campaign, particularly in Southern Portugal and Spain, for the first time, not enough buyers were found for the cork harvested.
Powerful and focussed, the synthetic industry, which discovers and invents properties for its products, also frequently makes wise use of propaganda and so manages to manipulate consumer preferences.

Supporters of the new closure methods, who adopt didactic communication for screwcaps and humorous communication for plastic stoppers, may seduce the consumer of the future. Synthetic offers a low-cost solution for the "right stopper", adapted to the length of storage needed. "Today, 90% of wines are drunk within six months!", states François-Xavier Denis . According to him, near to one bottle out of four in the world is today corked by a synthetic material. In the United States this level is much higher with one bottle out of two.

A market study from the consulting group Skalli & Rein explains that synthetic stoppers have an annual growth rate of 20% since their appearance in the 90s. Until the end of 2009 nearly two billion bottle necks will have a screwcap compared to only 600 million in 2004. The French market, still hesitant, is part of the strategic target of the plastic stopper: "Under the combined efforts of the synthetic and the screwcap, the share of cork at a world level should fall to below 50% within the next 5 years" projects François-Xavier Denis.

The Australian and New Zealand markets are wavering under the push of producers such as Foster’s and Pernod Ricard to follow the recommendations of distribution. The screwcap represents 60 and 90% of the markets, respectively.
High-quality wines will likely not demean themselves by using plastic stoppers. But the problem is completely different for "medium" quality wines: wines with short periods in the bottle. It is here that the future of cork plays out due to the large quota that these wines represent in contrast to the small percentage of high-quality wines.