Courtwatch: Amuse Bouche Claims Amorim Sold the Winery Faulty Corks
August 17, 2018
A Napa Valley-based winery is suing the world’s largest cork manufacturer for allegedly selling TCA-tainted corks, according to court records.
Amuse Bouche LLC, a winery with a tasting room in downtown Napa, and winemaker Richard G. Peterson allege Amorim Cork America sold the winery thousands of faulty corks, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in Napa County Superior Court. Defendants also include Amorim’s Portugal-based affiliates, Corticeira Amorim S.G.P.S., S.A., Amorim & Irmaos S.G.P.S., S.A., and others.
The company purchased the natural corks after reading online reports about Amorim’s success in eliminating the potential for TCA in wine, according to the complaint. Salespersons and employees allegedly made similar representations, according to the lawsuit.
Amuse Bouche in late 2016 agreed to buy 4,000 “of the highest quality” Amorim corks for its 2015 Richard G. Peterson Pinot Noir, according to the complaint. The company began to receive complaints of corked wine from collectors and trade accounts after releasing the wine, according to the lawsuit.
“By early 2018, (the plaintiffs) discovered the problem was widespread as opposed to an occasional anecdote,” according to the complaint, which states ETS Laboratories of St. Helena was retained to test the wine for TCA.
“The test results from ETS Laboratories demonstrated unacceptable high levels of TCA in the 2015 RGP Pinot Noir,” according to the complaint.
Amuse Bouche also had agreed to buy another 6,600 Amorim corks for its 2016 Richard G. Peterson Pinot Noir. The document does not specify when that agreement was signed. ETS Laboratories tested these corks after TCA issues surfaced with the 2015 RGP Pinot Noir, and found high levels of TCA in the Amorim corks. Amuse Bouche rejected the corks, which has delayed the release of the 2016 RGP Pinot Noir by at least six months, according to the lawsuit.
The delay in releasing the 2016 vintage, widespread disappointment with the 2015 RGP Pinot Noir and the “need to explain what happened to the RGP wines,” has caused Amuse Bouche and Richard G. Peterson “to lose momentum in the market place with distributors, importers and consumers,” according to the filing.
Wine critic James Suckling rated the RGP 2015 Pinot Noir a 79 after he sampled a corked bottle, according to the lawsuit. Suckling had rated the 2014 vintage a 92. The subsequent vintage 2016 received a 90-plus rating.
Amuse Bouche alleges Amorim falsely advertised Amorim’s success in “eliminating the potential for cork taint in wine,” citing Amorim’s 2016 press release that touted NDtech as a quality control system for natural cork stoppers. The company claimed the system allows the examination of an individual cork “’using sophisticated chromatography in just seconds, making the technology practical on a major industrial scale,’” according to the court filing.
The court filing cites Amorim’s claim that NDtech “’strengthens Amorim’s quality control measures by screening individual cork stoppers on the production line to eliminate the risk of any natural whole cork contaminated with releasable TCA reaching winemakers.’"
The winery bottled 574 six-packs of 750 ml bottles of the 2015 RGP Pinot Noir; it shipped 449 of those before learning of the possible TCA problem—the other 125 six-packs were not shipped, according to the lawsuit which alleges breach of contract, negligence, false advertising and other allegations.
TCA – or 2,4,6-tricholoanisole occurs when naturally occurring molds metabolize chlorophenols which can be present in natural corks in certain circumstances. This “can render the wine unsaleable and can ruin an entire vintage," according to the complaint.
Neither an attorney for Amuse Bouche or a representative for Amorim could be immediately reached to comment on the case.
Editor's Note: TCA can come from a number of sources other than cork.