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Amorim makes breakthrough in fight against TCA

Amorim has achieved a major technological breakthrough to become the world’s first cork producer to deliver natural cork stoppers to winemakers in six countries with a non-detectable TCA guarantee*, using cutting-edge technology that has not only been successfully trialed, but which is also being independently validated on performance.

Known as NDtech, the state-of-the-art system further 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.

“Until now, no cork producer has been able to guarantee an automated quality control system for natural cork stoppers that screens corks individually,” says Amorim’s research and development director Dr Miguel Cabral.

“We have been working to achieve this goal for several years. Now we can examine an individual cork using sophisticated gas chromatography in just seconds, making the technology practical on a major industrial scale. We already have machines in use on the production floor which are delivering this guarantee to the first of our discerning customers.

Two of the world’s leading wine industry research facilities — Hochschule Geisenheim University and The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) — have been engaged to independently validate the performance of NDtech.

“The fact that Amorim’s NDtech is the only individual screening technology undergoing a double, scientific validation underlines the magnitude of this technological breakthrough.” says Cabral.

Previously, gas chromatography examination took up to 14 minutes, making it impossible to use on production lines. Instead, Amorim applies the technology in laboratory-controlled batch testing as part of its quality control measures for the 4.2 billion corks it produces each year — and at the same time worked to improve the technology so it could be used in production.

The development of the super-fast NDtech follows a five-year €10 million research and development investment by Amorim and a partnership with a British company specialising in gas chromatography.

With incredibly high precision, NDtech can detect any cork with more than 0.5 nanograms of TCA per litre (parts per trillion). These corks are removed from the production line automatically.

The level of precision necessary to meet this standard on an industrial scale for 100 per cent of the corks examined is astounding, especially given that the detection threshold of 0.5 nanograms/litre is the equivalent of one drop of water in 800 Olympic-size swimming pools.

NDtech is complemented by Amorim’s existing preventive, curative and quality control measures, including the patented ROSA Evolution treatment used during production.

As the world’s leading cork producer, Amorim has stood at the forefront of the fight against TCA — a naturally forming chemical compound that is a problem throughout the packaged food and beverage industries — with the application of rigorous production standards and certified quality control methods.

“Amorim has experienced phenomenal growth in demand for cork stoppers over the past five years with annual sales increasing from 3 billion units to more than 4 billion,” says Amorim’s chairman and CEO António Amorim.

“This is due, in part, to increasing awareness of cork’s environmental and technical advantages and acknowledgement of the added value that a quality natural cork closure brings to bottled wine.

“Now, with NDtech, we have made the world’s best wine stopper even better.”

NDtech is initially being applied to Amorim’s top-end natural cork stoppers used to close some of the world’s most valuable wine brands.

“The response from winemakers has been as positive as we had anticipated, especially given the important role that premium packaging has for wine exports to crucial markets such as the US and China,” says Carlos de Jesus Amorim’s head of marketing and communications. “Wineries in France, US, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal have already taken delivery of our NDtech checked corks. The introduction of NDtech after several years of development again highlights Amorim’s tenacious commitment to building continually on its well-established and industry-leading quality control measures.”

* A non-detectable TCA guarantee means that if any TCA remains in a cork it is below the detection threshold of 0.5 nanograms/litre.

17 May 2016 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor