Wine is an idea very much rooted in tradition and history, so when something new and innovative comes along, it tends to cause a stir. I was stirred this morning when I caught wind of a new kind of cork alternative, called, well, it is actually so new it does not have a name yet (though “the breathing screwcap” is a possibility). The mystery closure was invented by UC Davis Business Graduate student Tim Keller. Tim has also been trained as a winemaker, and has been honing his skills in the field over the last ten years.
Why does the world need a new kind of wine closure? The main reason is TCA, which is a bacteria that can get ruin a wine (and is successful much more than people think). You may have already seen screwcaps on wine bottles, so what is the big deal about Mr. Keller’s screwcap? Well, one thing that cork does very well is allow a small amount of oxygen into the wine over time, allowing the wine to age and evolve. Current screwcaps do not allow enough oxygen in for the wine to evolve as it should, so Tim set out to create a “TCA-proof enclosure with moderate oxygen transfer”. Tim believes that the screw caps currently on the market work just fine for white wines; it is the red wines that need a more sophisticated closure. The difference between current screwcaps and Tim’s screw cap is that “current screwcaps only allow oxygen to transfer through the contact area, whereas our cap has another channel to allow oxygen in. We use different materials to control the rate of transfer.” In simple terms, current screw caps basically seal a bottle, and Tim’s screwcap not only lets oxygen in, you can control the amount of oxygen that is allowed in. This is a huge development, as it gives winemakers another tool to create better wines. Tim expects his screwcap to hit the market within a year, and as our conversation winds down, he leaves me with an inventor’s wet dream, “Hopefully our grandkids will never even see a cork”. If those aren’t the words of a Mutineer, I don’t know what is.