August 2008 Issue of Wines & Vines

Taking Advantage Of Capsules

Decorating options draw consumer eyes, no matter what the closure

by Jane Firstenfeld
Wine Capsules

  • Although packaging remains in constant flux, making the most of the capsule has become simpler and less expensive with new processes and materials.
  • Many wineries that bottle wines with screwcaps still seek to replicate the finished look offered by capsules.
  • Although tin remains the traditional, upscale preference, other materials now offer eye-catching décor options.
A woman walks into a supermarket-sized liquor store on a hot summer day, with a blazing thirst for a nice rosé wine, and not a salesclerk in sight. Unsure where--or even if--there is a rosé department, she leans on her cart, wondering where to begin. Suddenly, like a mariner spying the welcoming beam of a lighthouse, she spots a gleaming pink beacon, and navigates directly to a display of Pink Truck wine, guided by a shiny capsule that calls out "rosé." Safe harbor is found.

The woman was me, the market was the vast Beverages and More! in San Rafael, Calif., and this parched sailor took a Pink Truck home. Behold, the power of the 21st century wine bottle capsule.

One of the smallest, least expensive and, some might contend, most insignificant elements of modern wine packaging, the capsule still serves its historic intent: to protect and identify the wine within. It can also exert a siren call, luring buyers to bottles and extending the branding reach of its makers and marketers.

The alluring Pink Truck

Wine Capsules
Pink Truck's rosé blend of Zinfandel, Grenache and Mourvédre (about 30,000 cases per year) is finished with a polylam capsule. The luscious pink hue was carefully selected to complete the story of the overall package.

Manufacturer: Maverick Enterprises, Ukiah, Calif. "It is important to communicate directly and see the work as it's created," says Katy Leese, director of public relations and co-founder of 585 Wine Partners, producer of Pink Truck.

Cost per capsule: $.05; percentage of package cost: 6-8%.
Despite the enduring search for the "ultimate" wine bottle closure--and indeed, the ultimate package--capsules have retained their classic importance. And although closures are in constant flux, making the most of the capsule has, ironically, become simpler and less expensive with new processes and materials.

In the aisles of BevMo and practically every other retailer, a whole new world of capsule décor has materialized. This article explores what wineries and capsule producers describe as the trends that are shaping capsules now.

You don't need a cork to have a capsule

You don't even need a synthetic cork. Of the many wineries worldwide that bottle at least some of their wines under screwcap (see,"Finding Closure"), many prefer to retain the familiar, finished appearance that capsules provide.

Krueger Winery Technology LLC, in St. Helena, Calif., is the American representative for Germany's MALA Closure Systems GmbH, which manufactures aluminum screwcaps for the wine industry. Owner and CEO Ortwin Krueger reports, "Our decorating capabilities have received great attention lately" in the Napa Valley. He cites one customer whose flagship white wines grew 27% in sales with its first screwcapped vintage.

Domaine Alfred experiments

Wine Capsules
San Luis Obispo's Domaine Alfred (20,000 cases per year) bottles its DARE red blend and all its white wines under Stelvin screwcaps, according to assistant manager Brett Scheiderman. The décor includes a grapeleaf on top, and the winery's web address and phone number on the skirt.

Manufacturer: Alcan Packaging

Cost: "About the same" as conventional cork-and-capsule closure.

The winery experimented by bottling one-third of its 2005 Pinot Noir production in screwcap, but it returned to cork.
Krueger says demand is high among customers who desire high-quality closures at low prices, especially for wines meant to be drunk young. Krueger offers both Saranex and Saran/tin liners, and recently introduced a compound liner for bottles with an anticipated shelf-life of under two years: "The ideal candidate for the sealing of many rosé wines," he points out. He also notes that since the compound liner is less expensive, "The customer has more flexibility" in decorating options. (See top photo.)

Those include foil embossing, which Krueger believes is a trend in capsule décor, "especially when applied to a matte finish background." Decoration, he says, can add 10-30% to the cost of the tops, depending on its complexity. New, bolder designs and colors are also trendy, he says. Krueger notes that many vintners start by experimenting with plain, standard screwcaps and then, once committed to the closure, become more sophisticated in their approach to its design potential, integrating cap decoration with label design.

Wine Capsules
The gold metallic capsule topping Havens Wine Cellars' premium Napa wines matches the gold leaf of bud break on the labels. Napa's Ramondin produces the tin capsules.
"Changes continue to challenge everyone in our industry," says Kimberly Jussely at G3 Enterprises in Modesto, Calif. G3's closure division supplies many types of closures and capsules, including the Royal-90 long-skirt screwcap, which allows 4-color printed decorating of both tops (seals) and skirts. "We see more vibrant colors and designs, especially on screwcaps," Jussely says. "Many of these brands are often smaller in quantity and able to experiment with more expressive designs."

Mason makes a choice

Wine Capsules
Napa Valley's Mason Cellars (60,000 cases per year) is known as a Sauvignon Blanc specialist. Owner Randy Mason has bottled his popular-priced Pomelo S.B. under screwcap since he launched the brand in 2004. He liked the closure so well that all his Sauvignon Blancs now use it. "I think it's the best closure for Sauvignon Blanc," Mason said.

Manufacturer: G3 Enterprises, Modesto, Calif.

Type of closure: Aluminum screwcap with Saranex liner

Price per unit: Approximately $.14.
G3, it should be noted, also provides corks and synthetic corks, as well as capsules fabricated from PVC, aluminum, polylaminate and tin to accommodate them. As detailed in "Capsules in Transition" (March 2008), tin prices have skyrocketed recently, resulting in more sales of polylam capsules, which have a "similar look, feel and application, at a lower price," Jussely notes. Like tin and aluminum, they also can be elaborately decorated with printing or hot foil stamping, and the tops may be embossed and printed or painted. Even PVC capsules, at the low end of the price and prestige scale, now can be embossed and printed on skirt and top. "G3 has made a significant investment in decorating," Jussely says, adding a color matching department and opening an on-site rotogravure printing facility to reduce lead times and costs.

Wine Capsules
Delicato Family Vineyards uses custom-designed polylam capsules from Maverick Enterprises for the approximately 1 million bottles of Gnarly Head Zinfandel it produces every year.
Material changes

If some wineries are dodging tin costs by switching to polylam, "Some polylam customers are reverting back to aluminum," because polylam, a petroleum-based material, also has risen in cost, according to Eric Puusa, president of Fleming-Potter Inc., Markham, Ontario. His company primarily manufactures aluminum foil capsules, with small production runs of polylam for specific customer requirements. Fleming-Potter is experimenting with different inks for capsule decoration, says Puusa, who notes that moving from a single solid color to a secondary color can add 40-50% to the basic capsule price. Adding an optional tear-tape to neatly and safely remove the capsule top adds about 10%. He reports that shortages and rising prices for glass bottles have forced some wineries to redesign their capsules.

Kendall Pickering, whose Pickering Winery Supply in San Francisco handles tin, polylam, PVC and aluminum capsules as well as the alternative Zork (see, "Finding Closure"), feels that too few wineries take advantage of the full decorative potential of modern capsules. "Although most custom capsules do top-emboss the head with a logo or name, few take advantage of decorating the skirt," he says. "The up-charges are very small for new silk screens and additional colors."

The glamorous James Gang

Wine Capsules
Tobin James Cellars in Paso Robles bottles about 15% of its production under the James Gang Reserve label, with a gold-embossed seal and matching foil "sun" motif on the skirt.

Material: Tin

Manufacturer: Ramondin, Napa, Calif. "The company matched our label foil color," says winery owner Claire Silver

Cost per capsule: $.13-$.14.
Pickering also says that many switch from tin capsules to polylam without changing the design, failing to take full advantage of choices that include up to 80 colors--"at least 12 different golds"--and brighter colors hot-stamped on polylam.

"Adding more complex decoration increases the price of the capsule, but not very much. Customers should consider redesigning their packages when moving to polylam. There are so many possibilities they or their designers are not aware of."

Getting the designer involved early can be helpful, according to Jeremy Bell, general manager of Rivercap USA in Benicia, Calif. Rivercap's main focus is on tin capsules, but the company is hedging its bets with polylam, in case the cost of tin becomes even more prohibitive.

Bell says that often, package designers will come to him in the earliest stages of the process to learn what options are available and get suggestions from the experts. "Surprisingly, there is not that much cost difference," between custom-designed and stock capsules, he says. "The main difference is that the lead time is greater." Rivercap normally has some 5-6 million stock capsules on hand, but it usually needs about three-months' lead time for custom work.

As with so many aspects of the wine industry, planning ahead is vital in choosing your closure and its capsule, your package's finishing touch.
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