Next time you open a bottle of wine, take a good look at the cork and maybe even smell it. Whether made of natural cork or industrial material, it may be specifically designed to get rid of spoiled wine.

Cork discoloration, usually caused by trichloranisole (TCA), affects a significant proportion of bottles each year. At best, it reduces the pleasure. At worst, it spoils the wine.

Last month, Amorim, a Portuguese company that produces more than 5.5 billion wine corks a year, announced that it no longer uses cork paint in its production.

We were able to deliver on an important promise to get rid of ACT and beat ACT once and for all, said Carlos de Jesus, Director of Marketing and Communications. Amorim achieved this by removing TCA and other impurities during production through temperature and pressure.

Individually tested natural corks can cost winemakers six times more than compound corks / Photo : Augusto Brazio

Meanwhile, the Californian company Cork Supply has announced that starting this year, all of its natural corks will also be non-TCA certified. The plant uses a modified two-stage process based on steam distillation.

Frankly, we don’t think we’ll be talking much about CAW in another year, says Jochen Michalski, president and founder of Cork Supply. I hope TSA is a dead issue.

This issue has long been a source of embarrassment to the wine industry, and the industry has spent decades trying to find a solution to it. Since 2015, some suppliers have offered fasteners that are individually tested for TCA by gas chromatography and other methods. Charles Auclair, owner of Auclair Winery in Woodinville, Washington, was one of the first to implement the system.

I said I’m done plugging unless you have something else, he says. I’m tired of picking up bottles with corks, and I’m tired of looking for them myself.

The Portuguese company Amorim uses temperature and pressure to remove TCA and other impurities during production / Photo : Augusto Brazio

Auclair was happy with a tested walking stick with one exception: the price.

They are very expensive, he says. There is a very large difference in cost.

Aukler uses composite corks for its entry-level wines, which cost one-sixth the price of individually tested natural corks.

It’s already a low-margin wine, says Ackler. With [one at a time] plugs, they don’t remove the pin.

Frankly, we don’t think we’ll be talking much about ASD a year from now. -Johen Michalski, president and founder of Cork Supply.

Compared to other natural corks, individually tested corks have a seemingly modest additional cost of 15 cents per cork. But for a product that can cost between a penny and a few dollars, these costs add up quickly. For every 10,000 cases in a winery that otherwise spends 50 cents per cork, this 15-cent surcharge brings the annual cost of cork to $18,000. As a result, wine producers may choose not to use more expensive wines to offset the additional costs.

It should be noted that the new processes of Amorim and Cork Supply are applied to all corks in production at no additional cost to the wineries.

The French company Diam has been producing TCA-free microagglomerate closures since 2003 / Photo : JC Mihe

Although the elimination of TCA for Amorim and Cork Supply has been the main driver of these changes, the various cork alternatives that, along with screw caps, have gained a significant foothold in the market in recent years have overshadowed the other side. In particular, microagglomerate corks, also called technical corks or compound corks, exhibit pulsations.

If you ask me: Of all the closed markets, which one is growing the most? This is definitely a technicality, Michalski said.

They are made from shredded cork granules and undergo a process to remove TCA and other impurities. Not only are they CAW-free, but they offer other benefits as well.

We believe that corking is the best way to close a bottle of wine, but corking is inconsistent. It grows on wood, says François Margaux, North American sales director of Diam, a French company that has been producing TCA-free microagglomerated corks since 2003. The density and elasticity as well as the mechanical properties can vary considerably.

The owner of L’Ecole n° 41, Marty Club, uses both traditional corks and Nomacorcs, a synthetic cork made from sugar cane / with thanks to L’Ecole n° 41

This can cause significant fluctuations in the bottles. As a manufactured product, Diam lids are not only highly resistant, but they also make it possible to precisely control the amount of oxygen supplied to the wine.

Winegrowers can choose what they want, what suits their wine best, Margot explains.

Diamond currently produces 2.4 billion closures per year and continues to grow.

We believe that corking is the best way to close a bottle of wine, but corking is inconsistent. It grows on a tree. François Margot, North American Sales Manager, Diam.

Mark McNeilly, owner of the Mark Ryan Winery in Woodinville, first discovered Diam’s closure of a top-of-the-line Chablis.

I took that plug out and had to look six times before I realized it was a composite plug, McNeilly says. It was beautiful and looked like a cork.

After several years of experimentation, the winery switched to diamond production.

We never looked back, McNeilly says. The wine aged well, as one would expect from wines in natural corks, but it was the consistency of the bottle that really impressed us.

Cork slabs stored to mature at Amorim in Coruça, Portugal / Photo : Augusto Brazio

Another alternative that is gaining popularity is Nomacorc, manufactured by Vinventions of North Carolina. Nomacorcs Synthetic Styling Agent is made from sugar cane, is 100% TCA free, provides individual oxygen exchange, is recyclable and has a negative carbon footprint. Later in the year, the company plans to launch a new range of lids made from recycled plastic.

At Vinventions, we all believe that the sustainable aspect of our wine corks will become increasingly important, says CEO Denis Van Rooy.

Marty Klub, owner of L’Ecole No. 41 in Lowden, Washington, D.C., first used Nomacorks for his white wines and then expanded it to other parts of the range. He was impressed with their work and its resemblance to natural cork.

We have literally never had a problem with the bottle, the Club says. And every time I put one on, I say wow. That’s very good.

However, Clubb also continues to use natural cork. He takes the money he saves by buying cheaper Nomacorcs and buys traditional corks for his best wines, which are individually tested at the TCA.

I’m open-minded, the club says. We’re not stuck in what we’re doing, and frankly I think all those cork suppliers have increased their share significantly now.

We never looked back, says Mark McNeilly, owner of Mark Ryan Winery, about his company’s decision to use Diam / Photo by Wewer Berona.

Although the alternatives are coming from the bottom up, natural cork still dominates the industry. But today, winemakers can choose from a wide range of cork options. Some alternatives promise fewer corked bottles, less variety in the bottles and less sustainability, which is a selling point for natural corks.

And while screw caps remain popular, these new closures offer what screw caps cannot.

The use of corkscrews should not be underestimated, says Michalski. I think it’s a lot of guilt.

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