A top Piedmont winemaker has won substantial damages from his cork producer for ruining thousands of bottles of wine – but he remains loyal to the company.

Gültig, a major German cork company, has agreed to pay rated Barolo producer Elio Altare some US$500,000 (€570,000) in recompense for a ruined batch of 1997 Barolos and Barberas.

During a mammonth seven-month hearing at the Tribunale in the town of Alba in Piedmont, evidence was produced of TCA – trichloroanisole, or cork taint – in the Altare cellars and wines. Gültig accepted blame and made an offer to Altare which he accepted without pursuing the case further.

‘A compromise was reached in which I have been reimbursed 80% of my losses,’ Altare, who has been using Gültig corks for six years, told decanter.com. He added he was impressed by their generous settlement and would continue to use their corks.

‘I’ve always been satisfied with the quality. Everyone can make a mistake, the important thing is to acknowledge it. They behaved correctly over the issue and that in itself is a guarantee that they are a serious company. If they are prepared to sell me their corks I’ll go ahead and buy my supply from them.’

In total Altare lost 27,000 bottles, including what he considers his ‘jewels’ – Langhe La Villa, Langhe Arborina, Barolo Vigneto Arborina, and Barolo Brunate. ‘A splendid year, perhaps the best wine I have ever produced,’ he said.

The winemaker is now spoiling for a fight with the EU.

He is petitioning the European Court in Strasbourg to force cork manufacturers to guarantee their product.

‘The real problem lies in the lack of research carried out by manufacturers. It’s cheaper for cork manufacturers to pay for insurance than to thoroughly research their product,’ he said.

‘It’s absurd that wine producers are subjected to tough hygiene screening when cork manufacturers have no such controls. The problems with mould lie across the entire cork industry.’

Despite his antipathy towards the industry, Altare will not consider synthetic stoppers. ‘It’s fine for wines which are ready to drink, but not for those which need ageing,’ he said.

Written by Michèle Shah24 January 2002