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Pull-Tab Wine Cork Makes Inroads

January 13, 1998

TORONTO (AP) _ Uncorking a bottle of wine can be a romantic ritual _ or a pain in the neck. For those who find the corkscrew less than user-friendly, the Kwik-Kork is coming.

Invented by a Canadian, manufactured in Portugal, the Kwik-Kork hit the big time in November when a leading French producer used it in more than 600,000 bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Some purists sniff at the newfangled cork, which can be pulled out without a corkscrew. But inventor David Hojnoski says the overall reaction is positive, leading to dozens of inquiries from wine producers worldwide.

Hojnoski _ pronounced hi-NOS-kee _ said one of Chile’s largest wine exporters and a big California winemaker will have Kwik-Kork bottles beginning this year. He said there has been keen interest in China.

In Britain, where Beaujolais Nouveau is highly popular, the Kwik-Kork received favorable news coverage and some praise in the trade magazine Packaging Week.

``Given the millions of pounds invested by packaging companies in research and development, it seems amazing that nobody has designed such a contraption before,″ the magazine said in its Dec. 4 edition.

The Kwik-Kork is made by drilling a small hole into a traditional cork and inserting a plastic pulling device. A plastic disk attached to the device stays outside the cork, and with a simple tug by the consumer, the cork comes out.

Hojnoski said he and his two partners initially set their sights on winning a 1.5 percent share of the 17 billion wine corks used by the industry annually. But he said they are now hoping to sell 500 million Kwik-Korks a year _ a 3 percent share.

The Kwik-Kork is being pitched for use with mid-price wines, bottles costing $5 to $10 that people buy to drink at home.

``It’s consumer-convenient,″ Hojnoski said. ``People are tired of finding cork floating around the top of their wine, or the cork pushed into the bottle. All those things don’t have to happen anymore.″

Jean-Pierre Durand, marketing director for the French wine producer Michel Picard, said the company decided to use Kwik-Korks as part of a drive to win over ``the Coca-Cola generation″ _ younger drinkers who might be attracted to easy-open wine bottles for picnics and parties.

But one of France’s top wine experts, Alain Segelle, belittles the Kwik-Kork.

``For me, it’s mostly a gadget,″ said Segelle, director of the Center for Information, Documentation and Tasting of Wines. ``Frankly, it doesn’t respect the wine’s quality. It’s not a top-quality cork.″

He said the Kwik-Kork is adequate for wines meant to be drunk quickly, like Beaujolais Nouveau, but doesn’t seal bottles tightly enough to suit wines that are meant to age.

Hojnoski disagreed, saying the Kwik-Kork had received top ratings in tests at a leading cork facility in Bordeaux, a bastion of the French wine industry.

``The Kwik-Kork does not break tradition,″ he said. ``It’s an enhancement of the cork.″

Hojnoski worked in Ontario’s wine industry for more than 30 years before going full-time into the cork project in 1995. He had been tinkering with the invention since 1989.

He now commutes between his home in Smithville, Ontario, and Kwik-Kork’s corporate headquarters in Barbados.

``We’re certainly paying the bills, and down the road this will be producing some very large sums of money,″ he said. ``But we don’t want the business to grow so fast we lose control. This is a labor of love. ... We want to have some fun.″

Hojnoski concedes the Kwik-Kork won’t gain universal acclaim.

``You always have some group that says, `Well, we want to keep tradition intact,′ that wants to preserve the formalities of opening wine in a restaurant,″ he said.

At Toronto’s deluxe Four Seasons Hotel, home to one of the city’s top restaurants, senior executive Guy Rigby suggested Kwik-Kork bottles were unlikely to appear on the wine list soon.

``There is this romance about opening a bottle of wine at the table,″ he said. ``If people are receiving good service and paying for good wine, they expect someone to open the bottle for them.″

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