AUSTRALIAN WINEMAKER Peter Bright, 53, studied winemaking at Roseworthy Agricultural College. He first visited Portugal in 1974. He joined João Pires in 1979, overseeing the development of the new winery, vineyards and wine brands, many of which have become Portuguese classics. In 1993, Peter left João Pires to set up Bright Brothers and work as an independent consultant. His experience has covered vintages in South America (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru and Brazil) and in Southern Europe (Spain, Italy and Greece). Peter’s wines have received many awards, including International Red Winemaker of the Year in 1993 (he is the only person in Portugal ever to have received that award) and three times Red Wine of the Year at London’s International Wine Challenge. In this exclusive interview, Peter Bright tells The Resident’s Gabriel Hershman about his pioneering range of aluminium wine bottles. He also explains why he believes cork stoppers will continue to lose out against screw caps.
The Resident: Where do you make most of your wines?
Peter Bright: The Alentejo, Ribatejo and Palmela, just south of Lisbon, near Setúbal. I have my own company, Bright Brothers, but I also have partnerships with two other companies – the Fado Company and Fiuza.
T.R: You have introduced a new range of aluminium wine bottles. Tell us about the advantages ….
P.B: We have a new range of Bright Brothers’ Bright White, Bright Pink and Bright Red aluminium bottles. It’s the first time that someone has put wine in aluminium bottles, really. Wine has been around in aluminium tins for some time, but not in aluminium bottles. The bottles are the same size as a regular wine bottle (75 centilitres) and fitted with screw caps.
There are many advantages. For example, if you take two glass bottles of wine on a picnic, you’re carrying about a kilo of glass in your backpack, whereas the aluminium bottle itself weighs only about 80 grams. The recyclable potential for aluminium is also much greater – only 15 per cent of glass is recycled as against over 90 per cent for aluminium. The screw cap also means it’s re-sealable.
We have also produced a red wine in an aluminium bottle (in addition to the rosé and white wines). It’s better than glass because it shuts out light. Get a clear bottle of wine and leave one in a dark place and the other in a very light place. Then, after four weeks, look at the difference in colour. Light is a great enemy to wine.
Aluminium bottles will dent, but they will not break. They can be re-used, they are much lighter and have much lower energy costs in transportation. They can also chill in 20 per cent of the time of a glass bottle. This new range of aluminium bottles has been selling very well in the Algarve.
T.R: Does the Algarve have any real future as a top wine-growing area?
P.B: It’s very good for making salad dressing, I hear! Gordon Ramsey (on his Channel Four series, The F-Word) offered Sir Cliff a very good bottle of wine – a 400 pound bottle of claret – and Cliff tasted it and said it was a very nice wine. Then Ramsey offered him a glass of his own wine and told him it was about 12.99 pounds a bottle and Cliff said it was ‘tainted and insipid, just like vinaigrette’. Ramsey then told him it was his own wine and Cliff swore on TV! But, seriously, the Algarve does have a future as a wine-growing area, producing very ripe styles that are quite easy to drink. But I think it’s a bit too hot down there.
T.R: What do you think about the relative merits of cork and plastic stoppers? Do screw caps protect the wine’s flavour?
P.B: Without a doubt. You have to respect the objective opinions of innumerable winemakers who have conducted trials over 20 years. The results have all been very positive.
You have got to look at the historical context. Wine has been around for thousands of years. The use of cork as a stopper only began in the late 18th century and only came into use in the 1850s. People in Portugal traditionally bought wine from garrafões and directly from barrels.
You have the same thing with this dispute over glass and aluminium containers. Aluminium containers have been around for ages – holding coca-cola, or vodka, or whatever – and cause no health problems at all. Cork is very nice and romantic, but it is a heterogeneous product. Each bottle of wine with a cork stopper is different because every cork is different.
T.R: But what if quality controls are supplied across the board?
P.B: But they are never exactly the same – they can’t be. Each cork is slightly different. It’s possible that the industry has developed techniques so that you don’t have problems with TCA contamination. But screw caps are much more convenient and more effective than cork.
The cork industry should have done something to prevent the problem of cork taint 20 years ago. Supermarkets protested because they received an astronomical level of complaints. But the cork industry was in denial. They thought they had no competition and that cork stoppers would last forever. Now you’ve got the whole wine industry in New Zealand moving over to screw cap. Australia is also converting to screw cap.
Most overseas wine producers favour screw caps. Many people in Portugal realise the advantage of using screw caps, but they are fearful because of the consequences to the market. The fact is that consumers like screw caps.
I would concede that synthetic stoppers are less effective than cork because they lead to problems with oxidisation. Cork is more effective than a synthetic stopper because it has a better natural seal. But it still doesn’t take away the problem that cork is a heterogeneous product. The cork industry can try all the publicity they want – even José Mourinho, who fronts an advertising campaign for cork in Britain – but it won’t make any difference.
T.R: Isn’t that just for the cheaper range bottles?
P.B: I keep cork stoppers for some of our top range wines because our partners in the Alentejo insist on it.
T.R: It has been said that cork allows for a small interchange with the atmosphere?
P.B: How do you know whether it’s small or big? How big is a piece of string?
T.R: What about the romantic and aesthetic aspect?
P.B: You mean hearing a pop rather than a crack? That’s been round for such a short period of time as far as wine consumption is concerned – it’s a joke!
T.R: Do you think cork will have lost more of the market in another 20 years?
P.B: I think that some of the top end wines will still have cork but there will be many more screw caps around.
I’m sure there will be a better balance. The production of cork increased so much that they couldn’t provide the original quality of the 50s and 60s when everything was hand-selected and only perfect cork was used. So they started using lower and lower quality cork.
T.R: Wouldn’t it be a disaster for the Portugal if the cork industry died?
P.B: I don’t think it’s going to die. What it will do, is go back to a rational level where it’s producing a high quality product.
There’s a law against pulling cork trees out here, so cork forests are protected. I’ve seen a lot of reports done, some very biased, conducted by the ‘hug a tree’ brigade. I believe in the environment as well, but to use that to support cork stoppers is totally spurious. Cork forests are not going to disappear. Cork can be used for many other things, such as insulation and decoration.