Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Rodney Strong Winery: The Great Cork Debate

Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Rodney Strong Winery: The Great Cork Debate

Article excerpt


The primary subject matter of this case concerned an intriguing product development dilemma encountered at Rodney Strong Vineyards, whether to use natural corks or metal screw caps on their wines. Secondary issues examined include Total Cost Analysis, Cost of Quality, House of Quality, and the voice of the customer. The case has a difficulty level of three and is very appropriate for advanced undergraduate and MBA level classes. The case is designed to be taught in one hour of class time with one hour of outside preparation by students.


John Leyden, the Vice President of Packaging and Distribution at Rodney Strong Vineyards, wrestled with the issue of cork taint - a widespread quality problem that ruins a significant percentage of wine. Cork taint causes moldy, musty aromas that affect perhaps up to 10% of wine produced worldwide. Contamination can lead to customer alienation and ultimately lost sales. Cork taint is a defect that can be eliminated by using alternative closures, such as screw caps or plastic corks, instead of natural cork. From a quality viewpoint, the best solution is a screw cap, which offers the advantages of a durable, long-lasting seal, which can be resealed after the bottle has been opened. However, this solution has been rejected in the marketplace because cork is perceived as a high quality closure while screw caps are associated with cheap jug wines.

Product development decisions require marketing, production, quality control, and purchasing to work together to find a solution. Suppliers should also be included to provide technical information and suggest solutions. The issue boils down to a choice between the technical superiority of one closure or consumer preference for a popular but inferior closure. John Leyden gathered critical information from suppliers and colleagues to help him make the decision. Possible courses of action included changing suppliers, increasing quality control efforts, using an alternate closure, or doing nothing. As the case closed, John was faced with the dilemma of whether to select a high-performance closure, which customers may not accept, or the inferior customer-preferred natural cork.

Students are asked to complete a Total Cost Analysis model. They are also asked to analyze the consumer acceptance aspects of the decision. A complete House of Quality example is fully developed to assess Cost of Quality issues.


'"Pop!" It's a sound every wine lover knows - that of a cork being pulled from a bottle of wine. But more than that, it is the music of wine itself, an echo that evokes a world of history and culture and a pleasure that touches all our senses. Some may argue that twist-offs help to demystify wine, but wine is not a commodity in the manner of mineral water or milk. Wine represents civilization; reducing it to the level of mundane, everyday beverages and condiments with twist-offs erodes its core, its very essence."

Thus spoke senior editor James Suckling of Wine Spectator in the March 31, 2005 issue devoted to the "Great Cork Debate". In Suckling's statement one finds the passion that forms consumer resistance to switch from natural cork, a flawed historical solution to the preservation of wine, to a modern reliable solution, the twist-off screw cap. While the screw cap solves a costly quality problem, it is vehemently resisted by legions of wine aficionados.

The rational side of the debate is well represented by another senior editor at Wine Spectator, James Laub:

"For wine drinkers, faulty corks lead to frustration and annoyance far too often. A bad cork is more than just a spoiled wine. It is hard-earned money down the drain."

"At the California Wine Experience this past November, hundreds of bottles of rare and expensive wines from many of the world's greatest producers were poured. The percentage of corky wines ranged from 4% to 12%. …

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