There’s a Closure for That: Variety & Customization Enhance Wine Closure Options.
By: Gerald Dlubala Grapevine November-December 2020
The choice of closure options and accompanying customizations that awaits today's winemaker can be mind-boggling. As has been the norm, the tried and true cork still holds the title of most requested. However, due to evolving technological advances, performance enhancements and environmental and safety issues, alternative options in closure choices may be just as viable and sometimes the more economical and efficient choice to preserve and market wine. Every aspect of packaging contributes to the overall cost, and closure choice is no different.
"Capsules and closures are pretty standard to our industry, serving as both a key element to the packaging while also providing any evidence of tampering," said Melanie Thomas, sales and business development professional for Janson Capsules, a leading Napa-based manufacturer of capsules and screwcaps for the wine, spirits and gourmet foods industry. "Costs for capsules differ depending on what they are made of and the type of packaging needed, including stock or custom colors, decorations, size, embossing, hot stamping, etc. Generally speaking, Polylam capsules can be between $40 to $60 per 1000 pieces, while PVC choices will run the winemaker between $25 to $40 per 1000 units, and then tin capsules come in between $275 to $450 per 1000 pieces. Screwcap choices include factors like liner choice, finish, decoration and sometimes specific knurling needs that influence their price point. Their pricing runs between $85 to $200 per 1000 pieces, depending on those factors."
"Pricing is certainly a factor when choosing closures, but it's usually not the only factor," said Bobbi Stebbins, Director of Marketing at Waterloo Container Company, a premier supplier of wine bottles, caps, corks and closures to eastern North America. "It's important to let your packaging provider know upfront what the important determining factors are in your closure choices, including things like recyclability or where products are manufactured. Knowing these factors upfront can help narrow down your closure choices. Manufacturing processes and standards are not the same from product to product or from country to country, so we can filter down your closure options and limit them to the available product options that you will be proud to have associated with your brand."
Both Stebbins and Thomas agree that a skilled and experienced winemaker will usually know what they want in a closure based on their brand characteristics, identity, price point and winery's bottling equipment. On the other hand, newer crafters may have no idea where to begin when faced with such a vast selection of closures and options. Both Janson Capsule and Waterloo Container offer experienced, qualified customer service to provide suggestions if needed. Janson Capsules will work directly with a company's marketing and purchasing departments to find the best closure solutions. Waterloo Container Company employs a closure specialist to ensure that the products sold will work well with each other functionally while providing consistency in brand recognition.
Kenny Hall, Waterloo Container's purchasing and closure specialist, told The Grapevine Magazine that Waterloo Container offers every type of closure a winemaker could need, with over 500 SKUs and over 50 million closures in stock. He said when choosing the appropriate closure for your bottle and project, attention to detail is critical. "Every closure is designed to fit with a specific bottle finish and product, so referencing closure technical data sheets is important. Taking the time to match this information with bottle drawings and finish ensures fit and performance."
Put a Cork in It
Cork is the traditional and most popular choice for wine closures, especially for those wines that age well. Cork is a natural and sustainable product with an innate ability to swell and form a tight seal within the wine bottle neck, thereby only allowing a minimal amount of oxygen transfer over extended periods of time. And now, thanks to modern processing, risk of the dreaded cork taint has virtually disappeared.
When it comes to cost, natural cork runs the gamut. Punched, or high-grade natural cork, has the highest price point, while other options like an agglomerated natural cork can have the lowest. As a natural product, cork can have many variations that must be accounted for in its use as a closure.
Synthetic cork is a popular, cost-effective alternative. It's more predictable than natural cork when it comes to performance over the long run. However, it can include petroleum-based ingredients that may not be sustainable or recyclable and, if left in the bottle for too long, can impart a detectable aroma, according to some wine professionals.
Wine with a Twist
"It's true that corks are still the most requested closure amongst our customers," said Stebbins.
"But skirted screw caps have jumped from 19% to 36% of our closure sales over the past four years. We feel that's due to the skirted screw caps being well suited to the shorter timespan from production to consumption of popular East Coast varietals, including Rieslings and other sweeter white varietals."
Similar opinions prevail on the West Coast, with Thomas telling The Grapevine Magazine that,
"Screwcaps are great for spirits but also increasingly popular for white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and the lighter Pinot Noirs. Oregon winemakers are using them more and more frequently."
"Screw capsules provide immediate ease of opening and reclosing capability," said Stebbins. "With standard liners, both taste and freshness are preserved, so the wine you put in is pretty much the wine you pour out. The roll-on pilfer proof short or longer skirted styles require machine application, meaning there could be additional financial investment and technical expertise required, either in-house or by way of a mobile bottler. To help offset this, Waterloo Container offers a skirted option that can be hand-applied, which is a great fit for smaller craft winemakers."
Bar tops sometimes referred to as t-tops offer the widest range of customization options, including top and shank materials. Waterloo Container offers newer co-injected synthetic styles to alleviate the known problems of breakoffs and general difficulty removing them from the bottle. Bar tops are gaining popularity for specialty wine products and allow for machine or hand application. They are generally easy to open and repeatedly reseal the bottle, making them a popular choice in spirit packaging.
"Polylam capsules are the most commonly requested closure and are suitable for any type of wine, including premium wines," said Thomas.
"They are a cost-effective alternative when needed, or when the winemaker just wants to upscale from the PVC capsules ... Tin capsules are better suited for the super-premium or exclusive wines that generally use heavier bottles and higher-end packaging. Tin is a great choice because of its unique texture and soft feel. Tin capsules bring a very elegant and expensive look to your wine bottle."
"As an East Coast distributor, we get more requests for PVC heat shrink capsules than for Polylam or tin capsules," said Stebbins. "This may be reflective of the typical price points seen here in the east as compared to the west. Other bottle closure treatments, like heat shrink PVC capsules, are an easy and economical way to finish off the tops of wine bottles while helping the product get noticed on the shelf and provide tamper evidence. Sizing is important in these situations because the tear tabs used in these applications must be properly aligned to fit the type of bottle finish and closure combination."
Sustainability and Recyclability
Stebbins told The Grapevine Magazine that Waterloo Container has seen an uptick in environmentally conscious clients requesting specific information on its products' recyclability and sustainability. Unfortunately, while the technology is available to recycle almost any type of closure, the reality is that the infrastructure to recycle is not readily available to all in the United States. All major vendors make claims and provide reports regarding the sustainability and recyclability rates of their products on their websites, and depending on different factors, those rates vary. For example, Amcor STELVIN screw caps boast an 80% recycling rate in Germany, while Europe's overall rate is reported at only 40%.
Janson Capsules offers fully recyclable products, including their E-Cap, manufactured from aluminum-based materials. Thomas said that more wineries are starting to consider this type of product based on market demand. They are an excellent alternative to the standard Polylam capsules that contain a layer of polyethylene, a non-recyclable component. Their tin capsules are fully recyclable and printed using water-based materials.
Thoughts, Trends and Innovations
Thomas told The Grapevine Magazine that Janson Capsules is currently working on innovations in capsules and closures. Without getting too specific, they are looking to align their products with new technologies, environmental protection standards and new ways to consume wines.
"I really believe that due to the unprecedented COVID-19 situation we are all living through, the way the wine closure industry has to operate to succeed will be tied to the local, sustainable and surely the digital world," said Thomas. "Having full access to great support with excellent technical knowledge when needed is extremely important to our customers. We have to adapt to our customer's needs and demands while also matching the bottle mold evolution and bottling equipment technologies."
Stebbins said they see a strong trend towards customization. At trade shows, the first thing potential customers want is to be different. In an industry where the containers themselves are often a commodity, the closure becomes an effective way to stand out or differentiate your product. There is increased interest in shape, texture and customization, including changing from a simple one-color logo to more elaborate multicolor decorating and embossing. Enhancements to the actual bottle finish that work with the closure are drawing interest as well. For example, we have a new lightweight Bordeaux bottle that is made in America and features an innovative accessory bead that is added to the finish. The bead facilitates a more accurate screw cap closure application and helps to prevent pull-offs." Affordability and versatility have become even more critical in this unprecedented year.
"Because of the COVID-19 situation, we saw an expanded need to provide inexpensive closure options of all types to home winemakers, smaller wineries and even for the hand sanitizer market,” said Stebbins. "As a result, we now stock several new closure solutions, including a hand-applied skirted 30X60 mm capsule and some tamper-evident continuous thread options. These allow smaller producers to offer the convenience of resealable closures at more manageable, lower minimum order quantities without the increased cost of additional application equipment."
"The bottom line is one size does not fit all," said Stebbins. "The bottle finish and contents will ultimately determine what your closure options are. It is important to procure closures from a reputable and knowledgeable vendor who can ensure this compatibility to protect your investment."