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Published January 07, 2013, 11:34 PM

To cork or not to cork?

FARGO – If you’ve had wine at home lately, you’ve maybe noticed there’s a difference in the ways the bottles are sealed.

FARGO – If you’ve had wine at home lately, you’ve maybe noticed there’s a difference in the ways the bottles are sealed.

Specifically, with the bottles that I’ve purchased around Fargo-Moorhead, I’ve seen three different types – traditional cork, plastic synthetic cork and aluminum screw tops.

There are other types as well – like a glass closure, or something called a Zork that seals like a screw top but pops like a cork – but you probably won’t see those much around Fargo-Moorhead.

With all these different methods, though, what’s the difference?

Since I’m hardly a wine expert, I posed that question to Greg Kempel, owner of Maple River Winery in Casselton, who told me that there is indeed a difference between closures.

More wineries are moving away from traditional corks for reasons ranging from cost to the quality of the seal, he said.

Wineries that use traditional cork have to deal with something called TCA or cork taint – a compound that grows in the cork itself and can affect the wine. When this happens, the entire bottle is lost.

Kempel, whose winery uses synthetic corks, estimated that 7 percent or more of all bottles sealed with traditional cork might be spoiled by TCA.

“Today, with our production nearing 50,000 bottles annually, if we had to factor in 7 percent of cork taint, can you imagine that expense?” Kempel asked.

There are other disadvantages to using traditional cork as well, Kempel says. It costs more than synthetic, and it’s a little bit more difficult to remove from the bottle, occasionally crumbling or breaking during the process.

So for all these reasons, “traditional cork is definitely out,” Kempel says.

Yet, it seems that the majority of bottles that I’ve purchased recently were still sealed with traditional cork. If there are so many disadvantages to it, why do wineries still go with that rather than synthetic or screw tops?

The only potential reason, Kempel speculates, “may be for nostalgic purposes.”

Kempel hopes to eventually use screw tops at Maple River Winery. That method, he says, provides the best seal and is a popular trend in the industry.

The only downside to screw tops is the machine that installs the seal requires additional space, which small wineries, like Maple River, might not have.

“If we ever move to a larger facility, the first thing that we would get would be a machine that puts screw tops on,” Kempel says.

The only topping method that seals better than screw tops are glass closures, Kempel says. But, given the high cost of that method, you’re more likely to see those toppers used in Europe than in Fargo, as with most things fine wine.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

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