Known as NDtech, the state-of-the-art system further strengthens Amorim’s quality control measures by screening individual corks 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,” said Amorim’s research and development director Dr Miguel Cabral whom I had met over 3 years ago during my visit to various factories and labs of Amorim in late 2012. At that time the research was going on in this area on priority.
Amorim: Uncorking the Portuguese Cork
“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, delivering this guarantee to some of our discerning customers.”
Scientific and independent validation
Two of the world’s leading wine industry research facilities — 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.” said Dr. Cabral.
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 specializing in gas chromatography. NDtech can detect any cork with more than 0.5 nanograms of TCA per liter (parts per trillion)- equivalent of one drop of water in 800 Olympic-size swimming pools, and remove the corks from the production line automatically .
TCA is a naturally forming chemical compound that is a problem throughout the packaged food and beverage industries, especially in the wine industry, forcing wine producers to find alternatives like screwcaps and Normacorc-synthetic substitutes.
Although there does not seem to be a big rush from the screwcaps users back to natural corks, Amorim has experienced phenomenal growth in demand for cork closures over the past five years with annual sales increasing from 3 billion units to more than 4 billion, according to the chairman and CEO António Amorim.
The company sales took a beating in 2009 because of general meltdown when the total sales dipped to 415 compared to 468 million in the previous year. However there has been no looking back since then and it has seen a steady rise to €605 million in 2015, registering a jump of 46% in 6 years. Last year alone, saw an 8% growth in revenues over 2014.
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 wine producers has been as positive as we had anticipated. Wineries in France, US, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal have already taken delivery of our NDtech checked corks” says Carlos de Jesus, Amorim’s Head of Marketing & Communications. He also clarifies that the non-detectable TCA guarantee means that if any TCA remains in a cork, it would be below the detection threshold of 0.5 nanograms/liter.
‘We expect sustained but fast-paced growth. High-end natural whole cork stoppers play a key role in that sustained growth, and are expected to continue to do so’, he says with confidence. He expects increasing sales and revenue across the board, with US gaining importance to become one of the 3 top markets along with France and Italy.
Carlos was a fellow judge at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, earlier this month where we discussed the trends in the cork industry in general and Amorim in particular. He keenly watches the defective corks bases on the second bottles requested by one of the 57 panels. He claims the number of defective corks has been going down.