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Automated Cork Quality Testing, Finally
 

 

For years, we’ve reported on the progress of the major cork suppliers to improve quality and reduce the level of cork taint.

As better cork alternatives became available to the industry, cork suppliers had to improve their production processes and quality control to minimize taint and provide a consistent product. Since at least 2012, we’ve also reported on the efforts of a few major suppliers to automate the process for checking individual corks for any contamination.

In the “closures war” there’s also been an arms race among cork suppliers to be the first to deliver high quality corks that are guaranteed to be free of contamination through individual testing. Yet it never really seemed clear when these systems would be ready and in fact for a few years I kept hearing it would “next year.”

Cork Supply has long offered its DS100 program that employs trained lab techs who sniff out contamination but the company also offered a few details into what it’s called the DX100 and DS100+ that will automate the laborious process. A company representative told me that Cork Supply is still working on the new processes and have made some good progress. "We continue to work diligently to fine-tune our own entirely automated system that will have the capability to detect levels of TCA, below human sensory threshold, at the most efficient speed," said global marketing director Jonathan Jewell in an e-mail. "We are currently completing precise adjustments to guarantee performance and expect to announce the new program very soon." 

Amorim also has been working on an automated procedure and I even watched an “off-the-record” video depicting the machine in action last summer.

I was a little surprised then to be wandering by the Amorim booth at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium and see them touting the “world’s first TCA-taint free natural cork” thanks to the company’s new NDtech system. The above image is from Amorim's brochure on the new technology.

Portocork, a subsidiary of Amorim, was pitching what they call “Icon” certified corks that also are screened with the NDTech system. According to Amorim, the new system is the result of a five-year, 10 million euro investment in research and development. The cork producer worked with an English company to develop a new “unprecedented fast chromatography technology” to test each cork in seconds and reject any with more than 0.5 nanograms per liter of TCA.

Is the arms race for cork testing over?

Likely not, Cork Supply has expanded its DS100 system and is now offering a “bottle buy back guarantee” for any tainted, DS100 cork. Not to be outdone, M.A. Silva also recently announced it has developed an automated cork testing process that uses gas phase spectroscopy to check every cork in an order.

These individually tested corks come with premium prices and the throughput on all of the testing systems is a little unclear so who knows if you can even get an order filled this year.

We’ll report on these, and other advances in wine closures in upcoming editions of the magazines, but it’s great to see the advances in quality control fostered by competition.

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