#1 - Consumer Attitudes
How do you determine a good cork ? ”
That was the question posed
to a diverse group of wine consumers and restaurant employees in a recent
study. The research was sponsored by one of the California Wine Industry’s
quality leaders, who with the assistance of three major cork suppliers,
held a series of focus groups concerning attitudes toward wine corks.
The research was based on
a three-part interview of premium wine consumers and restaurant employees
who regularly recommend and serve wine. These results are provided courtesy
of Cork Associates, Portocork America and Cork Supply, USA.
Most Participants, both consumers
and wait staff, volunteered that corks serve the primary purpose of
sealing the wine so that it does not leak. Some consumers and to a greater
extent restaurant wait staff, perceived natural corks as a means to
allow enough oxygen exchange to facilitate the aging process. Many in
both groups saw corks as a “traditional” component that added general
romance and sophistication to the wine. Most respondents had definite
and positive opinions about the proper feel, sound and appearance of
a “good” cork.
The overwhelming criteria
used to judge the quality of cork centered on extraction characteristics.
Most importantly, participants wanted a cork that is moist and can be
easily extracted without breaking or crumbling. Corks that are moist
and more pliable were strongly preferred over brittle, dry or hard to
remove corks. Other criteria mentioned were:
When asked to judge individual
corks both groups ranked the two highest classifications (A’s and B’s)
ahead of all other corks regardless of length or washing treatment. All
corks in these categories received over 80% positive ratings. The two
lowest quality grades (C’s and D’s) received between 40% and 50% positive
ratings. Samples of colmated and agglomerate corks were rated in the middle
- with positive ratings between 55% and 75%.
- Length - Medium
to long is better than short.
- Coating - waxy
and slippery is best - easy to extract and replace
- Texture - porous
is good - but not too porous.
- Printing - Text
or graphics strongly preferred.
- Color - Lighter
is better (especially with consumers)
- Absorbency - Want
wine color and smell without saturation.
- Real Cork -
not synthetic Prefer natural materials.
Characteristics of a High Quality Cork
Part One of the interview
called for the respondents to describe what characteristics they felt
were most important to a high quality cork. The responses were not prompted
and the answers were recorded verbatim. There were a total of 159 responses
that were summarized into 15 different categories. These 15 responses
are further grouped into the 5 general topics listed below. The topic
and the corresponding frequency of response are displayed. Detailed
results are provided in the attached displays 1A-C.
Criteria for judging cork
quality as a percent of total responses
|1. Extraction Characteristics
|2. Physical Appearance
|3. Wine Absorption
|4. Physical Dimensions
|5. Natural Materials
The most important criteria for consumers and the trade centered on
qualities having to do with extraction. The consumer groups’ most frequent
response cited “does not crumble” and “easy to extract and replace”.
The restaurant groups most frequently mentioned that they desired a
cork that is “moist and supple". The consumers showed a definite interest
in how easily a cork can be replaced into the bottle. Their ideal cork
is sealed tightly enough to create the traditional sound when pulled,
but not so tightly that it might break or crumble during extraction.
Generally more important to consumers than the trade, the overall
response showed a strong preference for text or graphics printed on
the cork. The consumers also preferred lighter coloring and associated
lightness of color to overall quality. The trade groups were not so
concerned with color or printing and primarily discussed the “texture”
of the cork as the most important visual characteristic.
Both consumers and the trade felt that a good cork should absorb some
portion of wine. They felt this aided the practice of sniffing the
cork. Both groups described “porosity” as a critical factor.
Both consumers and the trade consider longer corks to be of higher
quality than shorter corks. Some participants did mention that they
disliked some of the extremely long corks because they have a tendency
to break if the cork screw cannot reach to the bottom.
Consumers appreciated the “natural” quality of cork. They felt that
the wine cork provides an important component of the ceremony and
tradition of the wine experience. Some trade comments were negative
towards plastic stoppers, with the majority of complaints concerning
difficulty of extraction.
Quality Rankings of Specific Cork Samples
Part Two of the interview
consisted of ranking various types of cork based on their perceived
quality. Each respondent was asked to examine nine different corks and
assign them a quality level of “High", “Medium” or “Low”. The respondents
could assign as many corks as they wished to any category.
The results are summarized
here using the combined percentage of responses to “High” or “Medium”
quality. All the corks of grade A and B received over 80% “positive”
rankings. All the corks of grade C and D received less than 50% “positive”
rankings. In the middle were a colmated cork and a twin top agglomerated
cork. The attached displays 2A-C show the detailed responses.
Part Three of the interview
consisted of an examination of what perceived benefits are offered by
natural cork Most participants, both consumer and restaurant staff, volunteered
that cork serves the primary purpose of sealing the wine. Other perceived
benefits that were mentioned included the following:
- Top Visual Rankings
- over 80% Positive
A 1.75” Light peroxide95 wash 95
Grade B 1.75” Chlorine wash 89
Grade B 1.75” Light peroxide wash 88%
Grade B 2.00” Light peroxide wash (1)
- Mixed Visual Rankings
- between 50% and 80% positive
1.75” Light peroxide wash
Agglomerated 1x1 1.75” Light peroxide wash
- Low Rankings -
less than 50% positive
C 1.75” Light peroxide wash
Grade D 1.75” Light peroxide wash (2)
Grade C 2.00” Light peroxide wash (1)
The two inch corks generally received more “high quality” rankings
than their 1.75” counterparts. A small but significant number of
consumers (16%) ranked the longer corks at the “low” level. Presumably
the rankings are a manifestation of concern about ease of removal
and replacement of the longer cork.
Grade “D” corks received the lowest ranking among the restaurant
employees but the consumers group, ranked the “D” grade higher than
both “C” corks. This may be a manifestation of an opinion mentioned
by some consumers that “a good cork has pores in it”.
- Washes refer
to the rinsing procedure and color for each cork. The “light peroxide
washes” possessed a “natural” color. The chlorine wash was several
shades lighter in color.
- Colmated Corks
describe corks that have undergone a process in which the pores
and imperfections have been filled with cork material.
- Agglomerated Corks
describe corks consisting of two natural cork disks located on both
ends of a centerpiece comprised of granulated cork,
Benefits of Natural Cork
- seen as “traditional”
and adds to general romance and sophistication
- prevents oxygen from
spoiling the wine
- facilitates the aging
- can be used to re-seal
- provides an early warning
of a wine’s quality once extracted
- adds authenticity to
a wine (with name/logo or vintage printed)
This study was commissioned by an anonymous California
winery and enacted by an independent research organization. Four groups
were conducted in San Francisco and four groups were conducted in
Chicago. Four of the groups consisted of consumers of premium wine
and four consisted of restaurant wait staff personnel. Each focus
group lasted approximately 90 minutes and contained 5 to 8 participants.
This was a focus group study - directed at eliciting a depth of response.
It is not a statistically projectable study.
for Consumer Group: 1. Between ages of 25 and 64; 2. Not employed
in a competitive industry; 3. Having consumed wine for at least one
year; 4. Having purchased and consumed at least one 750ml bottle of
wine priced at $8 or $9 minimum in the past six weeks (depending on
the market); 5. Having purchased at least 3 bottles of any wine in
the past 6 weeks; 6. Personally open their wine at least 50% of the
time; 7. Primarily use a cork screw to open wine.
for “Wait Staff” Group 1. Between ages of 25 and 64; 2. Not employed
in a competitive industry; 3. Work full-time in a restaurant which
offers a selection of wine; 4. Personally serve wine to restaurant
customers; 5. Personally extract corks, primarily with cork screw,
at least 20 times in the past 6 weeks; 6. Have served at least 20
bottles of wine and at least 5 bottles priced at $29 or $31 or more
(depending on the market)