July 28, 2022

Time to ditch the capsule

Shelves with Hickory Hill Bottles with their medals

Look at all those capsules through the years!

If you have recently visited our tasting room or ordered wine, you may find some of the bottles missing the customary capsule. You know, that thing that covers the top of the cork and the neck of the bottle? That thing that most visitors this summer informed us, without hesitation, that they hate. Well, we hope everyone agrees, because we have decided to ditch the capsule. 

Dust, bugs, and mice, Oh my!

For a bit of history on the capsule- many years ago, the cork was susceptible to wood boring insects and gnawing small rodents. These actions would destroy the seal causing the wine to leak out or go bad. To prevent this, some of the first capsules consisted of spreading lead over the cork or dipping the top of the bottle in wax. These early capsules certainly deterred the pests, but as we all know lead was a major health issue. The wax? – a viable alternative to lead and is sometimes still used today.

Over the decades, our cellars and storage options have improved, basically eliminating those original pests, but tradition and then marketing departments like the finished look the capsule gives the bottle. Even screw-tops for wine bottles are made to look like a capsule. We are all used to this visual norm, right? Can we adjust? 

Today, the purely decorative modern capsules are made from tin, aluminum, or plastic. While the first two are recyclable, the majority of end consumers are unlikely to completely remove them and place them in the recycling bin.

Hickory Hill Vineyard’s Redbud with and without the capsule.

With the exception of a couple of bottlings, Hickory Hill uses the plastic capsule that we shrink-wrap onto the bottle. As we continue to look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce the amount of plastic we use, this one, simple, easy change continued to surface. This year, as we ran the energy-consuming heatgun to shrink the plastic capsules, we kept wondering, why are we doing this? When the answer continued to be “tradition tells us to,” we knew it was time to break from tradition. 

Our plan was to use up the capsules we had in stock and then switch to the more environmentally friendly capsuless packaging. Well, when the heatgun died, we couldn’t bring ourselves to purchase a new one. We knew we only needed it for a few months. We felt this event was the universe telling us we were making the correct decision. 

There are other advantages to ditching the capsule. A bottle with no capsule will allow winemakers, wholesalers, retailers, and end consumers to easily inspect the cork for quality. With no capsule, everything from slight discoloration to a leaky cork can quickly be identified, and timely, appropriate measures can be taken.

We hope you agree that the new, shall we say “topless” look, may take a little getting used to, but in the long run, it will be better for our planet. In the short run, it will make the process of pulling the cork a little less frustrating.