David Gleave MW is an exceptional wine importer. Canadian by birth, he fell in love with wine in the British Isles and has built up his company Liberty Wines from scratch to become one of the most important independent wholesalers in the UK. With broad smile, the looks of a schoolboy and an apparent inability to say no when asked to help, he is also one of the UK wine trade's most popular figures.
His original speciality was Italian wines but his portfolio now includes fine wines from all over the place, including an excellent selection of just the sort of top quality independent Australian producers I wrote about here, including Clonakilla, Cullen, Brokenwood, John Duval, Grosset, Mitolo, Mount Horrocks, Charles Melton, S C Pannell and Shaw and Smith. He also has longstanding connections with such Kiwi winemakers as Kim Crawford and Matt Thomson.
It's hardly surprising therefore that he sees the point of scewcaps (no-one who spends more than a minute with Jeffrey Grosset could fail to – and as someone who experienced six corked bottles in a tasting of 54 classed growths the other day, I can see the point too).
Gleave has considerable experience of Italian attitudes to screwcaps however and is so incensed by the fact that such stoppers are officially prohibited for DOCG wines, the top level of quality, that he has been moved to write the letter below to the Italian Minister of Agriculture about the matter.
"Ever the optimist," says Gleave,, "I'm hoping that we can get enough people to write to the Minister to make him consider revoking the Decree [that forbids the wicked screwcap] and give Italian producers the same freedom to choose their preferred closure as producers in all other countries have. This freedom is currently enjoyed by all producers of IGT wines, and by some DOC zones.
"We are sending an email to most UK wine journalists, to all our customers, to all our Italian producers and to some Italian journalists. If you feel this letter deserves wider circulation, please feel free to direct people to our website, www.libertywine.co.uk, where they can download the letter and email it to the Minister."
Below is the text of the letter.
I am writing to you regarding an issue that is having an adverse effect on the sales and positive image of Italian wine.
[Insert your business details – nature of business, where you work/what you do]
In the past decade, there has been a move on the part of many wine producers from around the world to use alternative closures to cork. This move has been driven by two factors:
- an increasing incidence of cork taint
- the better seal provided by screwcaps
The move to screwcaps in particular has been spearheaded by quality-oriented producers from Australia and New Zealand, but has now been adopted by others in France, Germany, Chile and the United States. Prices of these wines range from £5 to £50 a bottle, an indication of the high quality of the wines now being bottled under screwcap.
Italian producers, many of whom are normally so quick to see the benefits of innovation, have been slow to adopt this new technology. This is to a large extent due to the law.
Producers in DOC zones like Isonzo and Soave have successfully amended their disciplinare in order to permit their wines to be bottled under screwcaps. The Consorzio Tutela di Gavi and the Consorzio del Chianti have also altered their disciplinari, but because the Ministerial Decree of 7 July 1993 overrides these changes, they are unable to move away from cork. As you are aware, this Decree stipulates that all DOCG wines must use a natural cork closure.
This is unfortunate. The wishes of the producers are being ignored. They know that their competitors from other countries can use whatever closure they feel is best for their wine. It is then up to the customer to decide which wine, and which closure, they prefer.
Italian producers in DOCG zones cannot make this choice. Many of these producers have been responsible for altering the image of Italian wines in the past 30 years. The Ministerial Decree is undermining this positive image, and will result in a decline of sales of all Italian wines.
As far as the consumer is concerned, the situation is even more complicated. It doesn't make sense that DOCG wines sold in bottles of 37.5cl or less may use the Stelvin closure but those of 75cl may not! Let us also remind you of the agreement between Switzerland and Italy (28 September 1994) which allowed 50cl bottles of Chianti DOCG to be exported to Switzerland under screwcap.
I would urge you, therefore, to give Italian producers the right to choose which closure they wish to use for their wines by revoking the Ministerial Decree of 7 July 1993.