Tina Caputo, the editor at Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, had an interesting assignment for me: Has the media perception of corks changed over the past several years?
Her point, and it was a good one, was that the Winestream Media was quick to hop on the anti-cork bandwagon, and that its efforts played a key role in detailing the problems that cork had with the industry and with consumers. But now that cork has improved, is the media reporting that?
It's not news that cork wine closures had quality problems. Failure rates were as high as 10 percent, according to some studies. If 1 out of 10 bottles of ketchup were off because the closure failed, there'd be a federal investigation. But it wasn't until the mainstream wine media picked up the failure story that the cork industry started to fix things. Now that the quality of corks has improved -- and even its harshest critics think it has -- has the media covered that?
The answer, which appeared in my story in the May/June issue of VWM? Not really. The story isn't available online, so I covered the highlights Thursday and today. Today, after the jump, why so few people are writing about cork's improvements. Thursday detailed cork's quality problems, and why they seem to be over.
The improvements in cork quality don't seem to have attracted much attention in the wine press. There are several reasons for this, says journalist and author George Taber, who wrote To Cork or Not to Cork, perhaps the definitive account of the cork industry's struggles over the last 20 years.
• An emphasis among wine writers to do softer stories, such as tastings and travel, and less desire to write about harder, more technical subjects like corks. This perception is not necessarily flattering, says Taber, but points to how wine writers see their role in the industry and what they view as the quickest route to popularity.
• Fewer wine writers trained as journalists, who have the knowledge, interest, and resources to pursue harder, more technical stories.
• What Taber calls mob journalism, where everyone writes the same thing because that's what everyone else is writing. "You couldn't find anyone five to 10 years ago who didn't say that cork was dead," he says. “No one would say a kind word about cork.” Given this approach, the cork issue was settled at the beginning of the century, so there is no need to write about it again.
Complicating matters even more, Taber says, is that there was never a middle ground in the cork debate – which made discussion that much more difficult. “It was almost evangelical,” he explains. "Either you were for corks or you were against them, and the other side was made up of devils."
I saw this myself. I'm a screwcap guy, if for no other reason than they're easier to use than a cork. Yet when I have mentioned this over the years, I have been accused of heinous crimes, not the least of which was destroying the romance of wine. Which, of course, is the point, since the romance of wine is one reason why more people don't drink wine.
On other interesting note, from Purdue University cork expert Christian Butzke. He expects to see a new approach to cork journalism: an emphasis on nostalgia. Stories may well be focused on themes like "Remember the good old days, when all wines were closed with cork?" or “Remember when wines weren't closed like a bottle of soda?"
No wonder the Winestream media drives me crazy.