Wine Technology of the Future: Wine Bottle with Permanent Contact Between the Wine and the Cork

“Wine Technology of the Future” is a series on The Academic Wino that features new inventions and patents that attempt to make your wine experience easier and more enjoyable.  Previously on this series, we’ve introduced the “self-aerating wine bottle”; the “corkscrew with integral intelligent thermometer”; “wine dispensing and preservation device”; “multi-stream wine aerating device”; the “wine bag carrier”, the “system and method for pairing food with wine”, and most recently, the “lateral flow device for Botrytis cinerea detection”.  Today’s invention is the “wine bottle with permanent contact between the wine and the cork”, invented by Gregorio Peñafiel Monteserin from La Rioja, España.  The European patent was filed on February 17th, 2010, and was recently granted and published on July 10th, 2013.

According to the patent (EP 2 399 834 B1), this new type of wine bottle was designed to “allow for permanent contact between the wine contained inside the bottle and the cork, regardless of the bottle’s position, including the vertical position”.

Why does wine-to-cork contact matter?

According to some research, wine contact the cork is very important for oxygen transmission through the cork into the wine, which aids in proper wine aging and storage.  If the cork is not in contact with the wine for a period of time, the cork will dry out and cause a slight shrinkage, which effectively creates a tiny space in between the cork and the neck of the bottle, rapidly increasing the amount of oxygen entering into the bottle and reacting with the wine.  A little oxygen is good, but too much oxygen is bad, so it’s important to store wine bottles properly (with the wine touching the cork—best in a horizontal position) so that the cork does not dry out and increase the chance of oxidation.  Also, if the cork dehydrates due to poor positioning and it is later moved back into a horizontal position, the little extra space that was created when the cork dried out and shrank will result in some of the wine leaking out, creating a big mess and ruining your wine.

So, the moral of the story is that winemakers and/or shop owners try to stress to their customers that the proper way to store wine is on its side, so that the cork is always in contact with the wine.  However, the winemaker can’t guarantee this practice will actually take place, and they’ll cross their fingers that the customer will heed their advice, so that any complaints based solely on improper storage and not winemaking technique will not rear their ugly heads.  I suppose customers aren’t the only ones to blame—often bottles are stored in a vertical position during the shipping process from winery to shop, thus another opportunity for cork dehydration presents itself.

Why can’t you just fill the wine up to the very top of the bottle?

At first one may beg the question of filling up the current wine bottles all the way to the top with wine.  The wine will always be in contact with the cork that way, right?  Well, the small air pocket that winemakers leave in the bottle is actually very important, and without it, the wine would be in whole mess of trouble.  One reason why the small air pocket in the wine bottle is necessary is that the liquid inside the bottle with expand or collapse, depending upon temperature fluctuations.  So, if you filled the wine all the way up to the top and did not leave a little “wiggle room”, the expansion of the wine would cause the cork to pop right out (or at least push out slightly), which I probably don’t even need to tell you is not a good thing.  Also, maintaining a little bit of air contact is important in the micro-oxygenation of the wine, with is critical for proper aging and storage.

How can we fix this problem?

The author of today’s patent came up with a solution to guarantee the cork will not dry out, causing oxidative or other damage to the wine inside the bottle, but inventing a bottle that results in a cork touching wine 100% of the time, regardless of what in which position the bottle lies, while still maintaining a small pocket of air somewhere in the bottle to adjust for volume changes due to temperature.

Figures 1 and 3 from EU Patent 2399834B1

Figures 1 and 3 from EU Patent 2399834B1

You’ll see in figures 1,3,5,7, and 9, several different possible “layouts” of bottles that could be created to achieve the desired effect of constant contact between wine and cork while still leaving a little air pocket as described above.  In essence, the design for all of them is basically the same, save for aesthetic differences.  The bottle is comprised of a bottle neck that has interior walls that are touching the cork, and exterior walls that are not touching the cork BUT are still located in the bottle.  With traditional bottles, you have the interior wall touching the cork, but the exterior wall is touching the outside air.  In this invention, it’s as though a little pocket for air is created when the exterior walls for the neck are located INSIDE and not outside of the bottle.  It may be easier to imagine this by consulting the many figures below.  By filling the bottles made with this design almost to the top, the bottom of the cork will always be touching the wine, even when in the bottle is in a vertical position, and a small pocket for air is still created due to the exterior wall inside the bottle design of the bottle “neck”.

Figures 5 and 7 from EU Patent 2399834B1

Figures 5 and 7 from EU Patent 2399834B1

In each figure, the #6 represents the exterior wall of the bottle “neck” and the #8 represents the air pocket that is created when the bottle is filled nearly to the top.  You can see that the base of the cork is well below this line every time, so each time the bottle is filled with wine, the cork will always be in contact with the liquid and a small pocket of air will still be maintained.  (note: it’s important to actually fill the bottle up high, as if it’s not filled high enough, we could just run into the same cork dehydration issues as before).

Figure 9 from EU Patent 2399834B1

Figure 9 from EU Patent 2399834B1

According to the author of this patent, this design is guaranteed to last at least 50 years, which bodes well for those that would like to age their wines for a significant period of time.

Concluding Thoughts

I am actually intrigued a bit by this bottle design.  From reading the patent, it sounds as though it may be a good option for avoiding the issues of improper storage due to positioning.  Once the wine leaves the winery, there is no telling how that bottle will end up being stored, so by at least controlling for one factor, the winemaker can help reduce the chance that his or her bottle will end up going bad before its time due to avoidable improper storage positioning.

Of course, one big issue that has yet to be determined (that I know of anyway) is how much these bottles will cost, and how much extra glass is utilized to make this design.  Environmentally, it’s not the best idea to increase the amount of glass used in an individual bottle, so if there is a way it can be done so that this is avoided, great.  I would imagine the corking process would be the same between these bottles and bottles with traditional bottle necks, so I can’t see wineries needing to purchase new bottling equipment.  On the consumer end, opening the bottle shouldn’t be any different than how corks are already removed from traditional bottle necks, though I do wonder if there would be some extra resistance due to a possible vacuum effect of the liquid directly contacting the cork when trying to remove it…not sure!

Personally, I think this new bottle design(s) is kind of interesting, and I’d like to see some more research on their effectiveness as well as ease of implementation into the wine industry.

What do you all think of this invention?  Please feel free to leave your comments!

Source: European Patent EP 2 399 834 B1.

 

8 comments for “Wine Technology of the Future: Wine Bottle with Permanent Contact Between the Wine and the Cork

  1. R.S.
    August 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    This guy has obviously never run a bottling line. You are going to end up with a least one atmosphere of pressure in each bottle because there is no way to pull a vacuum as the cork is inserted.

    • Becca
      August 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks for your comments, RS! Sounds like he may need to tweak his design a little bit, unless he expects all of us to suddenly gain superhuman cork-pulling strength ;)

      • R.S.
        August 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm

        Hi Becca,
        You actually won’t need more strength because there will be pressure in the bottle for at least a few months after bottling. This pressure will eventually equalize past the cork and the bottle will seep wine. From your photo, I would guess that you were born well after the use of vacuum corkers became the industry standard. Thank heaven for progress and thank you for the interesting article!
        ¡Saludos!
        R.S.

        • Becca
          August 27, 2013 at 6:19 pm

          I was born in 1982, though I suppose I was a couple years younger than I am now in that photo (though in all honesty, I still look exactly the same ha!).

          Thanks for all your great comments! It’s great to have knowledgeable commenters such as yourself and others adding such great stuff to the conversation!

          Cheers!

  2. August 27, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Pulling a vacuum is still possible. The wine level raises temporarily in the area of the cork seal when a vacuum is applied then lowers as the head space above the liquid is re-compressed when the cork is inserted.

    I might worry about the expense of the bottle as well. It’s a very complicated design for a consumable product. Most people who enjoy wine already have established regimens for storing their bottles on their sides.

    • Becca
      August 27, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      Great points, Mark!

      I suppose another thing is that most people buying wine aren’t storing them for long periods of time anyway, so the potential added cost of the bottle might not be worth it after all. I suppose if the costs are equal, it’d be fun to have “something different” on the shelves, but something tells me the costs are likely not equal!

    • R.S.
      August 27, 2013 at 4:54 pm

      Hi Mark,
      The concept of a vacuum corker is based on the goal of creating pressure in the bottle that more or less corresponds with ambient pressure. As we know, ambient pressure can vary with altitude and pressure in the bottle can vary with temperature. During bottling, headspace should never be compressed and level of the wine should not vary under proper circumstances.
      The best people who operate bottling lines test for pressure in the bottle every 15 minutes or thereabouts. The ideal pressure in a wine bottle immediately after cork insertion is actually about 3-5 psi of vacuum. The reason for this is that bottled wine is almost always stored at temperatures higher than that at which it’s bottled.
      Wine bottles are typically priced as a function of weight and quantity purchased. There is nothing inherent in the designs of these bottles that should make them prohibitively expensive. The designs of the bottles are well-intentioned. They simply won’t work with natural or synthetic cork.
      Happy harvest if you’re in the northern hemisphere!
      R.S.

  3. WineKnurd
    August 31, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the cork will still dry out even if it contacts the wine. Seepage through the cork happens because the wine is in contact with a dry, shrunken cork that has been stored in a low humidity environment. These designs, to me, do not seem to address this issue.

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