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Bruce K

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In which I discover a new corkless closure

by Bruce K » Tue Aug 22, 2006 5:15 pm

When I was out in Walla Walla (lengthy notes/observations to come when I can get around to it), I bought a bottle of Cougar Crest 2003 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Franc. When I went to open it that evening, I peeled off the lead foil (actually, it's tin, they tell me) and, lo and behold, the bottle was open. No cork! No evidence of one ever being there. Yet no evidence of spillage, either -- just a slight red stain on the underside of the tip of the foil.

Never in my life have I seen that!

The wine actually smelled good, but I didn't want to taste it, fearing sabotage/contamination etc. Anyway, I called the winery and the woman who answered didn't sound shocked, saying it was the second time she had heard of this happening. She explained that their bottling machine corks 40 bottles a minute and that if the line has to stop for a reason and then restarts, sometimes a bottle will be left corkless, but that quality control is supposed to pull that bottle off the line before it goes out the door. She also said she wasn't surprised it hadn't leaked because the foil is wrapped on extremely tightly. She was apologetic and, of course, I returned it.
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Robin Garr

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Re: In which I discover a new corkless closure

by Robin Garr » Tue Aug 22, 2006 5:33 pm

I thought I had encountered something like that a while back, Bruce, when I bore down with the Foilcutter to trim a surprisingly recalcitrant foil, finally got it off, then looked in to behold an empty neck with wine at the bottom.

As it turned out, I had unwittingly cut the end off a Stelvin.
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Ian Sutton

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Re: In which I discover a new corkless closure

by Ian Sutton » Tue Aug 22, 2006 7:20 pm

Robin Garr wrote:I thought I had encountered something like that a while back, Bruce, when I bore down with the Foilcutter to trim a surprisingly recalcitrant foil, finally got it off, then looked in to behold an empty neck with wine at the bottom.

As it turned out, I had unwittingly cut the end off a Stelvin.


I think they market Stelvin as idiot-proof, but I reckon we've got a better class of idiot on this forum :wink:

thanks for sharing your shame Robin!
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Mark Willstatter

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Re: In which I discover a new corkless closure

by Mark Willstatter » Tue Aug 22, 2006 9:44 pm

Bruce K wrote:When I was out in Walla Walla (lengthy notes/observations to come when I can get around to it), I bought a bottle of Cougar Crest 2003 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Franc. When I went to open it that evening, I peeled off the lead foil (actually, it's tin, they tell me) and, lo and behold, the bottle was open. No cork! No evidence of one ever being there. Yet no evidence of spillage, either -- just a slight red stain on the underside of the tip of the foil.

Never in my life have I seen that!

The wine actually smelled good, but I didn't want to taste it, fearing sabotage/contamination etc. Anyway, I called the winery and the woman who answered didn't sound shocked, saying it was the second time she had heard of this happening. She explained that their bottling machine corks 40 bottles a minute and that if the line has to stop for a reason and then restarts, sometimes a bottle will be left corkless, but that quality control is supposed to pull that bottle off the line before it goes out the door. She also said she wasn't surprised it hadn't leaked because the foil is wrapped on extremely tightly. She was apologetic and, of course, I returned it.


As someone who has spent time on the bottling line of a small winery, I can tell you that it can happen, although it's a bit unusual for the problem to go undetected that long. The line I worked on was typical: "sparging the bottle" (in this case, using nitrogen primarily to blow bits of cardboard out of the new bottle) was manual (but automated in many places), filling and corking automatic. Adding the capsule/"foil" is usually manual because handling capsules is tricky and hard to automate. Ideally, that person is making sure there's a cork in the bottle before the capsule goes on but when you've looked at thousands of bottles that day... (As an aside, lead has been gone in most places for the best part of two decades now. Lead capsules were thicker, heavier and easier to cut).

Then the bottle goes through an automated "spinner" to shrink the capsule onto the bottle, then labeled automatically. The bottles are pulled off the line, right side up, and put into the upside-down case (which comes from the bottle manufacturer glued on what will become the top side). Of course, the person doing that can't see the cork is missing because where the cork would be is covered by the capsule at that point. Finally, what becomes the bottom of the case is glued or taped and the whole case inverted onto a shipping pallet so that the wine is shipped neck-down (all of this assumes natural cork).

Usually at that point, the problem becomes evident as the capsule doesn't seal that well or at least begins leaking through the air holes that are usually on the top and you have a mess. The wine leaks out, the line stops and people scramble to figure out how many bottles went through without corks. But if it was just one bottle out of many and little or no leakage, it's easy to see how it could have gone undetected. Even if there is leakage, if the case is in the middle of a pallet, it might not be noticed. It's a bit unusual for the bottle to find its way all the way to you - if nothing else, by the time it's in the store, the fill usually would have dropped enough that you'd notice. I guess you just got lucky, though! :wink:
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Mark Lipton

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Re: In which I discover a new corkless closure

by Mark Lipton » Wed Aug 23, 2006 1:28 am

Robin Garr wrote:I thought I had encountered something like that a while back, Bruce, when I bore down with the Foilcutter to trim a surprisingly recalcitrant foil, finally got it off, then looked in to behold an empty neck with wine at the bottom.

As it turned out, I had unwittingly cut the end off a Stelvin.



You got off easy, Robin. My Sis-in-law once put a corkscrew through a Stelvin, resulting in bloodied hands and quite a mess. She can laugh about it now, though.

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Bruce K

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Re: In which I discover a new corkless closure

by Bruce K » Wed Aug 23, 2006 10:28 am

Thanks for sharing, Robin. :shock: I'm a professional klutz and have only avoided similar embarrassment and humiliation so far because, somehow, I have yet to buy a wine bottled with a Stelvin closure (not that I've been intentionally avoiding them).
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Re: In which I discover a new corkless closure

by Bruce K » Wed Aug 23, 2006 10:31 am

I guess you just got lucky, though!


Thanks, Mark. I was lucky in that I got a good story to tell and an education in the bottling process.

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