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By Alice Feiring

(FORTUNE Small Business) – The sorry stats say that as much as 10% of all wine is infected with TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), a compound found in plastic, burlap, and--more to the point--cork. A mere nanogram can make a lively wine dull, and in larger amounts it turns wine to liquid mildew. The cork industry ignored the problem for years before finally announcing it would try to lower the failure rate of its products. For some winemakers, that's not good enough. A few are taking the bold step of switching to screw caps.

Don't laugh. In the U.S. screw caps on wine have long been a punch line, but in Australia and New Zealand (two countries that don't pay as much deference to winemaking traditions), screw caps have been catching on lately. And in 2000 a fine wine in the U.S. broke the barrier--the 1997 PlumpJack Napa Cabernet Reserve. The 2001 vintage costs $155 a bottle.

Randall Grahm, the winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz, Calif., soon followed. Cautiously, he put screw caps on all 80,000 cases of his popular Ca'del Solo Big House red and white ($10). Seeing no sales resistance, he next switched all 300,000 cases of table wine, including his high-end bottles. "We love it so much more than cork," Grahm says. "The flavor has a digitally precise quality."

The biggest problem with screw caps, in fact, is perception. The less sophisticated the drinker, the bigger the issue. If you're willing to endure some teasing from dinner guests, try Bonny Doon's Le Cigare Volant 2 ($45), Three Thieves Zinfandel ($12), or the pinot noir from Oregon winery WillaKenzie ($25). --ALICE FEIRING