Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Priam Vineyards has always worked to promote a more sustainable product. In 2008, we were recognized for our solar panel run property. Any visitor over the past decade would notice our many recycling cans surrounding the patio that help our used bottles find a new home after they leave the establishment. Now, we're taking things a step further: sugar cane closures.
Firstly, what do we mean by "closures"? "Closure" is the proper term for anything that seals wine into a bottle, e.g. cork or metal toppers. Our new closures have the same job, but they're made differently from our previous corks.
Left: Cork, Right: Sugar Cane Closures
Why would we switch from cork to sugar cane? To start, while cork is considered sustainable, its not recyclable. Cork trees don't need to be cut down to produce cork—cork comes from the bark of the cork tree which can be stripped without harming the tree. Cork trees are zero carbon, because the production process produces less carbon dioxide than the trees, themselves, convert to oxygen. However, cork trees that are used to make wine closures can take 70 years to grow, but only be useful for 3 years in the cork-making process. So, overall, cork is, and has been an amazing choice for us over the years as a sustainable resource, but it has it's pitfalls as well.
As mentioned before, cork isn't recyclable. Cork IS biodegradable, and there are many programs to keep them out of landfills and into their preferred method of decomposition: compost heaps. Unfortunately, compost heaps aren't very popular here in America (at least not yet). Cork also can have a drastically negative affect on the wine its supposed to keep safe from bacteria. "Corking" is the process by which mould from the cork tree remains in the cork closure and taints the wine. This process can make the wine smell like old socks or taste like wood grain.
Another piece of the cork puzzle is that we cannot control the amount of micro-oxidization, which is the preferred amount of oxygen introduced to the bottled wine over any given period of time, which is different depending on whether the wine is white, red, rosé, or reserve.
The last issue with cork, which anyone who's ever opened a bottle of wine is always aware of: cork breakage. Cork has a tendency of falling apart when you use a wine bottle opener. The cork screw is the best way to remove a cork closure, but it does have the possibility of breaking in half and falling into the bottle.
We've been trying to solve these issues of controlled micro-oxidization, recyclability, corking, and cork breakage; we got our answer, and of course, it's fully sustainable: sugar cane closures.
Our new sugar cane closures are made by Nomacorc(R), who specialize in eco-friendly wine closures made of fully recyclable and biodegradable sugar cane biopolymers. Sugar cane is a weed that produces demerara sugar—not to be confused with brown sugar—which is the natural sugar that is derived from the cane plant. Sugar cane can grow up to 6 feet in a year, which makes it as fast growing and sustainable as bamboo shoots. The cane is grown in a 1:4 rotation, allowing the soil in the fields to regenerate between growth periods. One field will be growing young cane plants, two fields will be replenishing their soil, and the last field will be growing harvest-ready plants.
Once the sugar cane is stripped of its sweetness, and then used to generate alcohol, the left over fibers are recycled into the biopolymers that create the Nomacorc closures Priam now uses. These fibers, which would have otherwise been thrown out, now have a second life. Because every part of the sugar cane plant is utilized, this massively sustainable product was a huge draw to our solar powered, sustainable company.
Our new wines Riesling, Blackledge Rosé, and Salmon River White are all bottled with our new closures that our winemaker, Renan, has selected the best micro-oxidization levels for each wine. He will be working closely with Nomacorc to produce closures for our upcoming wines, as they make closures suitable for 5, 10, 15, or even 20 year bottle aging. We're excited for our new partnership, and we can't wait to see what our customers think of our upgraded product.
If you'd like to check out Nomacorc, here is there website: http://www.nomacorc.com