The International Review of Wine Packaging and Aesthetics, Vol. 15: Stopper edition

Posted by Rob Walker on March 3, 2008
Posted Under: Reviews,Wine Packaging

Zinfandel; Dry Creek Valley
$18 (Savannah)

Nero d’Avola; Sicily
$12 (Savannah)

[Note: This is the fifteenth installment in a regular Murketing feature. For previous installments and an explanation, go here. As noted earlier, it is also (probably) the last installment in this series.]

I will admit that I purchased Plungerhead because of this project. But I’m not writing about it for the reason I thought I might.

What caught my eye was the illustration: I wasn’t sure if it was interesting enough for the IRoWPaA, but it vaguely reminded me of the “loonies” on Monty Python, and there was something intriguing about this deranged-looking figure as a winery’s icon. Plus, it was visually appealing. I gave no thought at all to the name “Plungerhead,” quickly placing it in the category of “approachable because it’s so stupid – oh, I mean funny.” As you know, that’s a very common tactic among wine packager/branders these days.

If I had read the back label, I would have realized that while a packaging/design element of Plungerhead was in fact pretty important, it was not the illustration.

It was the stopper.

For a long time, the essential divide in the stopping-up of wine bottles was simple: Cork or cap. Obviously, corks held the aesthetic high ground; screwcapped wine was low class, period. In time, things have become more complicated. There are real corks and synthetic corks and finely tuned debates about the merits of the various points along the continuum between these two choices. Screw caps are now used on perfectly decent wines, and I suspect have a reverse-snob appeal to some consumers.

And lately there are newer options. Such as the Zork.

Plungerhead uses a Zork. A Zork, according to this official site, is “a patented, alternative wine closure that solves the problems of cork taint and oxidation.” The way it works is this. At shelf, the thing is not particularly noticeable, although if you’re sharper-eyed than I am, maybe you’ll notice there’s a sort of a knobbish quality to the cork area of the bottle. Pull along the rubbery thread and you will find that it detaches entirely, leaving a sort of cap. Under the cap is a cork-shaped protrusion that’s stopping up the bottle. “No corkscrew required.” As for the protrusion:

The polyethylene plunger is clipped into the inside of the cap and welded to the foil. The plunger creates the ‘pop’ on extraction and reseals the bottle after use. The plunger material has been tested by the AWRI and shows no negative affects on the wine.

So let me just cut to the chase: We love the Zork.

This is a matter of utility. Try as we might, we can’t always finish off every bottle of wine we open in one sitting. And some corks (particularly synthetic ones) are almost impossible to jam back into the bottle. In fact, we’d taken to keeping a pile of spare corks around, which I’m guessing wasn’t really a particularly sanitary move. (If you have details on that subject, please keep them to yourself.) The point is, the Zork was a big hit at IRoWPaA HQ. I can’t remember if E even reacted to the illustration that made me buy this stuff, but her enthusiasm for Zork was undeniable. The phrase “kick-ass” came up, for instance.

Now, returning to Plungerhead specifically, it’s kind of fascinating that its makers have basically built their brand around the style of cork they’ve chosen to use. There’s the name, of course. And I mentioned the back label: It includes a ridiculous paragraph signed by “Eddie Plongerheid,” that explains the “really innovative” Zork in a manner that’s meant to be funny. A shorter statement about the wine itself seems like a throwaway line – like it’s just something that you get in addition to the Zorked bottle.

Having looked into it a bit, I now realize there are a fair number of Zork-topped wines out there, and that Zorking has been going on for a few years. But this the only wine I know of that’s tied its identity to its stopper in such a determined manner – even if it turns out that for the uninformed consumer (e.g., me) this branding strategy had no impact at all.

Anyway, we were still pretty hyped up about the Zork when, on a recent visit to a friend’s house, we were served a bottle of Consumano Nero D’Avala, a Sicilian wine with – a glass stopper!

Light Google-fu suggests that the glass “cork” is a product of Alcoa Closure Systems International, a division of the aluminum giant, and that there are a few hundred wineries using it.

The glass stopper is, usability-wise, supercool. It just feels excellent to remove it, and to slide it back into place. It’s far more satisfying than the Zork — or a regular cork. Plus, as a stand-alone object, the fact that it’s glass makes it seem vaguely valuable, like something you’d prefer to keep around, even if it’s not clear what you’d do with it.

On the other hand, glass isn’t a terribly pliable material, so it’s not like you can just press a glass stopper into service on any old bottle. It pretty much fits the one it came with, period. On pure form, we preferred the glass stopper. But on the matter of function, there’s just no stopping the Zork.

Obligatory comments regarding the actual wine: Nera D’Avalo was pretty good. Plungerhead was only so-so, and at that price, pretty much a ripoff.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Sorry to see the series go, Rob. Always interested when consumer media pick up on the merits of packaging. Though, you can still get your fix at We look at the role packaging plays in marketing consumer brands …

Written By Pauline Hammerbeck on March 4th, 2008 @ 11:33 am

Thanks for your support.

Written By Rob Walker on March 4th, 2008 @ 11:59 am

Rob – ZORK is a client of ours and after reading your terrific testimonial, I was wondering. . .
Would you be willing to let us use your quote in promotions? Not sure in what type of promotion just now, maybe a direct mail piece or an ad, but we’d certainly let you know beforehand. Is this a possibility?

Written By charlotte seligman on March 18th, 2008 @ 6:25 pm

It exists in the world, so I don’t see how I could stop you.

Written By Rob Walker on March 18th, 2008 @ 7:05 pm