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Cork seminar held in Napa.

Three internationally known experts on cork production and cork problems spoke with more than 260 winemakers and technicians at a cork seminar held by Cork Associates in Napa in January.

Jordi Cata, president of the California cork organization, stressed that cork is "not a perfect product, that much misinformation exists in the cork field," and that his company was organized a year ago. So much demand for information exists that Cata organized the Napa seminar to speak of problems and opportunities.

There is no shortage of corks nor any truth to the rumors of declining production of cork, according to Alfonso De Barros of Portugal, vice president of Amorim & Irmaos, one of the largest cork producers in the world. He added that although winemakers have been troubled and concerned about cork taint, "there is little doubt that cork constitutes the best stopper for the highest quality varietal wines. "

There's an ever changing market which results in increasing demand, and his company didn't venture outside of Portugal until the mid-1960s, De Barros said. He told his audience, "the cork has always been there, and whenever something has gone wrong, it has always been attributed to the cork, an easy target.

"Portugal is the major (52%) producer of raw material cork and world leader as transformer of raw material (78 )," said De Barros whose company Amorim & Irmaos were pioneers in the cork industry beginning in 1922, and who are now responsible for 34% of Portuguese cork exports, producing and exporting one billion corks last year to 65 countries worldwide.

The second speaker, Dr. Terry H. Lee, director of the Australian Wine Research Institute, said that extensive research has been conducted into corks and wine, leading to three key conclusions, as follows: There is an acute need for continuing improvement in cork tree forest management; that chlorine should be abandoned as a cork bleaching agent, and that preventitive measures need to be applied to prevent mold from growing on corks.

Dr. Lee made one surprising comment about corks: "Most people assess moldy flavors with corks, and in fact most of this moldy-ness and mustiness lies with the oak used in wine production." The two major problems of cork, leakage and off-flavors, seem to be under control, Dr. Lee said, but when off-flavor is the problem, the consumer "probably won't buy that particular wine again." Yeasts and bacteria are not as much a problem as mold, Dr. Lee told his audience.

The Aussie research expert said intensive research showed by chemical analysis that chlorine used to bleach corks could be traced to development of trichloroanisole. This he labeled as the culprit in the musty, moldy and wet cardboard smell that is found in cork-tainted wines.

Mold spores can grow at any stage of the production procedure, and the intensity of the mold varies greatly in affecting the wine's fruitiness, according to Dr. Lee. He described off-flavors as mushroom, earthy, and metallic.

"Moldiness can usually be found by industry people, by wine judges, by wine writers. The public doesn't often return wine bottles" the Australian said with a certain degree of astringency.

The final speaker of the day, Dr. JeanMichael Riboulet, director of the French Center for the Improvement of Quality in Enology, declared that quite often moldy tastes can be ascertained in the wines still in the vat even before any contact with the wine stopper. Often and unfortunately, Dr. Riboulet declared, many who make wine decisions will buy the most inexpensive stopper and then complain about the taint in corks. Like Dr. Lee he inveighed against the use of chlorine in bleaching corks.

"In Portugal there are countless small individuals producing corks, and they are in no way privy to the latest research and development." As for the freedom from contaminants, Dr. De Barros told the audience that his firm is doing its best to ensure completely clean corks. With 14,000 working in the cork industry, he added, cork is so preferable for wine because (a) it is natural; (b) because of its chemical composition, and (c) because of its resilience, and its imperviousness.

Following the reception the Napa firm offered lavish hors d'ouvres and an impressive array of imported many countries.
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Title Annotation:experts on cork production meets in Napa Valley, California
Publication:Wines & Vines
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:700
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