db exclusive: The world’s biggest cork producer announces TCA breakthrough
db can exclusively reveal that the world’s biggest cork producer, Amorim, has delivered on a promise made 18 months ago to eliminate detectable TCA* for every cork it makes – which amounts to more than 5.5 billion stoppers annually.
News of the breakthrough came from a discussion with company chairman António Rios de Amorim last month, who confirmed that Amorim has developed cost-efficient technology to remove detectable TCA from all its product lines at no extra fee for the customer.
It’s a big moment for cork, considering Amorim accounts for almost half of the market for the natural stoppers, and 30% of the total production of all closures (see figures below).
Although António does not want to divulge the details of this development – understandably considering the competition in the closures sector – he told db that Amorim has used “batch-based technology” to remove TCA from everything it makes, and that the new process is ready for the end of this year. Unlike the company’s NDtech screening process, which is a quality control approach offering buyers of whole-piece natural corks a ‘non-detectable TCA guarantee’, the latest breakthrough involves new TCA-removal technology that can be applied across the board, especially for single-piece cork stoppers.
As for the name? “This technology is called Naturity, and that’s because there are no artificial elements used in the process,” António told db
While it is ready now, it will be officially launched on 1 January, he stated. Importantly, for the wineries that buy corks from Amorim, there is no additional fee arising from this development.
The employment of Naturity follows a commitment made by António 18 months ago during a conversation with db in Portugal.
Sitting in the one of the rooms of the historic Amorim family house, António said that Amorim would “eradicate TCA by 2020” – a milestone moment for the company as it marks 150 years since its foundation.
“You were the first person to be told the target we had set ourselves, and I don’t want to miss out on that statement,” he said to db last month, referring to our previous conversation, and the subsequent news story that featured on thedrinksbusiness.com, which spawned a host of excited enquiries for António from the global wine community.
But let’s not forget that Amorim was already a long way down the line of dealing with TCA when António made the promise, which was in July 2018. At that point, it had a steam-cleaning process for cork called ROSA, which stripped the material of any potential wine spoilage bacteria, as well as NDtech – a pioneering screening system for single-piece stoppers, which tests each cork for TCA, and, as a result, offers customers a ‘non-detectable TCA guarantee’.
However, this latter breakthrough was reserved for a special class of top-end stopper, simply because the screening technology was applied to each individual cork, a time-consuming process that simply couldn’t be applied to billions of stoppers. And it was scaling up Amorim’s TCA-free promise that was always António’s plan. As he said 18 months ago, “We will have an individual guarantee for all the corks we put in the market by 2020.”
Moving forward to our discussion in November this year, he said that the pandemic had not prevented Amorim “executing the plan we had”. Noting that it was, and had been for some time, possible to remove wine spoilage compounds from the cork granules used for agglomerated corks, he said that the challenge concerned single-piece natural stoppers.
He explained, “The issue was not with technical stoppers, but natural stoppers, and although we will have passed 80 million corks through NDTech this year, we need to secure our entire production, and for that, we need to develop something that is not so expensive.”
Finally on this topic, those who follow the developments of the closures sector attentively may recall that earlier this year another Portuguese company announced a breakthrough in TCA elimination, with Cork Supply stating in July that all its stoppers would now be free of TCA, and for no extra charge.
Called the InnoCork circuit, it steam treats corks in such a way as to remove the wine spoilage compounds without distorting the natural properties of the material. But the big difference is the scale of the application. Cork Supply produces around 600m stoppers annually, making it almost 10 times smaller than Amorim. In other words, Amorim may not be the first to make the claim, but the impact of its development will be much greater. So, even if the incidence of TCA is very low today (estimates suggest it’s now below 1 in a 1,000 cork stoppers), Amorim’s technology will mean that the number of spoiled wine bottles potentially making their way onto the market will drop dramatically. And by that, I mean by the millions.
The closures market by type
- Total: 19.5 billion bottles
- Cork: 12.5bn (Amorim: 5.5bn)
- Screwcap: 5.1bn
- Plastic: 1.9bn