Cork manufacture Sabate is pouring millions into researching a new technique for removing TCA from cork.

The France-based company – which makes a variety of cork-based closures and supplies thousands of wineries worldwide – is testing a technique using carbon dioxide to rid corks of TCA (cork taint). It is giving the research ‘top priority.’

Pascal Fougere, CEO of the closure division, said, ‘Winemakers have legitimate concerns about tainted wine, so Sabate has made this initiative, to remove one potential source of taint, its top priority.’

He added the company wasn’t ‘relying on the romance’ of cork to win the day.

The CO2 supercritical fluid extraction process is environmentally safe, hazard-free, and does not alter the chemical and physical properties of the cork.

The system works by ‘washing’ corks under high pressure with liquid CO2, which absorbs the TCA. It is a method widely used in extracting caffeine from coffee beans, and also in laboratories to extract trace elements – of pesticides for example – from plants.

No chemicals are used but, spokesman Joe Wadsack told decanter.com, it is likely to be expensive.

‘Industrializing the process will be very costly. For Sabate to treat one billion corks a year has huge practical implications – the autoclave (high-pressure vessel) necessary for containing the corks would have to be as big as a room.’

Sabate is convinced a solution can be found to the TCA problem, which spoils between 5 and 10 per cent of bottles a year, according to surveys. It is also aware that the cork industry’s reputation has been shaken by the onward march of the synthetic stopper manufacturers and their powerful media campaigns.

‘Conversations with customers and other wine industry stakeholders convince us that earning true credibility on this difficult issue requires a sustained, open, informative dialogue, and that is what we are doing,’ Fougere said.

Written by Adam Lechmere18 July 2002