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Amorim Announces Enhancements to Eliminate TCA

by Andrew Adams 
December 18, 2020


The world’s largest cork producer announced a major enhancement to its production process that it claims has reduced the amount of TCA and other sensory contaminants to levels below accepted sensory thresholds.

Following the enhancements of its production processes in Portugal, Amorim plans to deliver 350 million corks by the end of the year that it can guarantee are free of TCA or other impurities that could compromise a wine. The new system would complement Amorim’s existing NDTech process that is reserved for the company’s highest quality corks that undergo automated, individual sensory testing by machine. 

The new, large-scale production improvements had been in the works for more than two years but should be fully implemented by the start of 2021. Amorim’s research and development manager Dr. Paulo Lopes said he could not reveal much about the new processes as they are likely to be patented but said they essentially rely on temperature and pressure to volatize TCA and other contamination compounds to remove them from the corks. Individual analysis of 8,000 corks a day have validated the process Lopes said. 

Amorim’s announcement means the majority of corks sold to the U.S. wine industry will have some guarantee against contamination either from enhanced production process to remove impurities or direct sensory analysis by machine or human. 

“We never believed in a magic bullet that could defeat something that was measured in parts per trillion,” said Amorim spokesman Carlos De Jesus. 

Instead, the effort to defeat TCA required a three-prong approach that focused on preventing contamination in bark processing, detecting any finished corks that may be contaminated and now updating large-scale production processes to further remove trace amounts of contaminants. 

Portocork, an independent subsidiary of Amorim that operates in the United States, offers corks that have been tested through the NDtech system through its Icon Certified program. Cork Supply, which is based in Portugal and has facilities in the United States conducts extensive sensory analysis of corks through its DS100 process and this year announced a new, two-step process in which it uses high temperatures and steam distillation to pull out TCA and any other impurities from its natural corks. Cork Supply also offers corks screened individually by machines through its DS100+ system as well. 

Scott Laboratories, which is a Petaluma, Calif-based supplier of corks also announced this year it would back every cork it sold and buy back any wine bottle sealed with a contaminated cork. The announcement followed the 2020 release of corks with a two-step process of being treated with dry steam as well as undergoing individual inspection. 

Other research by Amorim includes exploring the nature of cork closures in wine aging and how the composition and structure of corks could possibly be categorized for certain types of wine and specific aging expectations. Lopes said the company is also gaining a better understanding of how the cellular structure of each cork can affect how a wine ages. A typical cork stopper contains about 800 million individual cells. 

The chemical structure of a cork also appears to play a role in wine aging, as Lopes said Amorim has confirmed the presence of unique tannins they are calling “corklins” that play a role in color stabilization and the overall polymerization of tannins in a wine. 

Cork producers have long marketed high-quality natural corks as the ideal closure for premium wines made in a style meant to age. De Jesus said the new research is now backing up what had previously only been supported anecdotally by winemakers. “What this science does is it provides concrete data everyone more or less intuitively knew there was a connection there,” he said. 

Founded in 1870, Amorim celebrated its 150th year in business in 2020 and earlier this year it released several studies by a third-party firm EY on the carbon footprints of its product line. According to reports provided by the cork supplier a natural cork stopper retains 309 grams of carbon dioxide CO2, its agglomerated Neutrocorks retain 392 grams CO2 and natural cork stoppers retain 562 grams CO2. 

“At Amorim, research and development are among our core values,” said Pedro Fernandes, general manager of Amorim Cork America in a statement announcing the results of the carbon footprint studies. “Results of studies such as this one offer concrete facts that support our sustainability messaging about cork and further enhance the reputation of cork closures in the eyes of environmentally-conscious wine consumers, offering a 100% renewable and sustainable natural resource.” 

According to Amorim the main reason why corks remain a sustainable, carbon negative closure is because of the forest. Cork trees can be sustainably harvested without being cut down, and De Jesus said that supports an abundance of biodiversity among the forests and pays some of the highest agricultural wages in Portugal. The company also covers 63% of its energy needs by generating power from zero-emission cork dust biomass. 

“You can’t expect sustainability to deliver what the world needs unless it’s a balance between people and the planet,” De Jesus said. “It’s made viable by people opening a bottle of wine.” 

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