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Wine cork makers seek to put a stop to declining sales

By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times | Posted: Sunday, December 7, 2014

The world’s wine cork producers want you to know they’re sorry.

Two hundred fifty years of market dominance may have left a whiff of complacency. They didn’t always listen to your gripes about cork taint — that awkward moment when you pop open your prized cabernet and it smells like wet dog.

And they paid dearly. Screw tops that once sealed only “niche” booze like Night Train now cap about 2 in every 10 bottles of table wine in the world, even the expensive ones. Plastic cork demand has also surged and now accounts for more than 10% of global market share.

“We got the proverbial kick in the pants,” said Carlos de Jesus, communications director for Corticeira Amorim, the world’s biggest cork company, based in the world’s biggest cork producing country, Portugal.

In a bid to win back customers, the natural cork industry has launched a new advertising campaign directed at Northern California winemakers. Winning their favor is crucial — the U.S. is now the frontline of the global wine industry, having surpassed France as the top consumer by volume this year.

The campaign highlights sustainable harvesting and builds off technical improvements that cork makers say they’ve achieved in driving down incidences of taint. Then there’s the intangibles: The bottle stops are essential to making the right impression during the gift-giving season.

“Any wine worth its grapes deserves natural cork,” says the ad tag line, which is being aired on four major Bay Area radio stations and featured in digital media ads.

At the core of the message is tradition.

“One of the happiest sounds in the world is the pop of a bottle,” De Jesus said. “Why would you want to do away with that?”

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