KENT, WASH. - Supreme Corq Inc. is marketing a wine stopper made from a polyolefin-based thermoplastic elastomer. The potential market is huge - every wine bottle in the world. One customer, Saint Francis Winery of Sonoma, Calif., is converting 100 percent to the elastomeric closure in place of more traditional corks. Saint Francis owner Lloyd Canton is so confident of the new stopper's performance that he will offer a guarantee against tainted wine.
The Supremecorq is made from a proprietary thermoplastic polyolefinic compound that meets Food and Drug Administration food-contact requirements and conditions for Class 2 and Class 3 medical devices. Each plug weighs about a third of an ounce and can be made in almost any color.
Saint Francis makes several hundred thousand cases of wine per year, at 12 bottles per case.
Jerry Zech, president of Supreme Corq, said he is not aiming the product at the bottom of the market.
``We do not want it to look cheap. We have encouraged people to put it into good wines,'' he said.
The synthetic cork is being used in wines costing as much as $36 a bottle in California.
Zech also has had success in the United Kingdom: the Safeway supermarket chain is starting to sell an Australian wine using the synthetic cork. That wine will sell for less than 4 (US$6) per bottle.
The designers have specified a yellow ``corq'' to match the color of the label and the wine (a semillon-chardonnay blend). A purple color for red wine also is possible. The Supremecorq is visible through the clear glass and a transparent, protective cover over the top of the bottle.
Canton said tainted wine has become a significant problem in the wine trade as the quality of traditional corks, made from the bark of the cork oak tree, has deteriorated.
If poor-quality cork is used, oxidation can occur. In the worst cases, this leads to an offensive smell and makes the product nearly impossible to drink.
``We are in business to get rid of the problem of tainted wine,'' Zech said.
Canton said he has never heard any reports of his wine being tainted since Saint Francis started using the Supremecorq.
On the technical aspects of the Supremecorq, Zech said it has a Shore hardness of 76, and the compression set and elasticity characteristics are critical to the performance of the product.
``We needed it to perform well on the bottling line, and not take a set while it is in the bottle,'' Zech said.
At Saint Francis, Canton said the Supremecorq can be extracted just like a conventional cork. He added that the winery had started out by using a different brand of synthetic closure, made from ethylene vinyl acetate, but it did not offer the right performance and had an oily feel.