“A wine cellar environment must be considered as an ecosystem.”
Alain Vauthier, Chateau Ausone
For many years TCA has been a part of the viticultural environment in California. This affliction has already caused the loss of entire harvests and has cost numerous wine growers millions of dollars. There must be a solution.
What is TCA? TCA is a group of chemical compounds known as chloro-anisoles and it occurs naturally in the environment. TCA is commonly known as the leading cause of “corked” wine, as corks infected with TCA were thought to be the primary vehicle of transmission to wine. At high levels, TCA imparts a musty or moldy character to the wine or, at low levels, simply suppresses the wine’s fruity characters.
A large number of scientists who specialize in studying this area have tackled the problem. Numerous substances have been designated as being the cause of the problem. At first it was believed to be the corks. Indeed, TCA—often associated with a very pronounced cork taste—is caused by the chlorophenols largely used in the cork industry. From these basic deductions, corks have been targeted as the guilty party.
Consequently the cork industry quickly evolved to address this problem. Numerous advanced technological solutions appeared on the market: synthetic corks, sterilization, disinfection and whatever else could be done to justify the affirmation of “guaranteed TCA free.”
Then why, despite all this, has TCA continued to be a problem? Does the problem really exist where it has been suspected to exist?
Different research teams continue to study the problem. A well known study is currently being conducted by Dr. Chatonnet, Professor at the Institute of Enology at Bordeaux. The central question of his research is when and how did this problem appear?
The conclusions have been diverse and varied. Everyone agrees, nevertheless, on this one point: TCA appears before the wine is bottled, and in 95% of the cases, the cork taste is not due to the cork.
Wood in the ageing cellars such as the cellar buildings’ wood frame structures, beams, and barrels have also been identified as contributing to this problem. Wood that has been treated with derivatives of chlorophenols have been found to present multiple risks and factors.
After these discoveries came to light, a second wave of precautions were put into effect involving the banning of certain treatments that could pollute wine. However, the problem has still persisted. It wasn’t going to go disappear that easily. Natural corks have been used for centuries, and wooden building structures and oak barrels have always been part of the very essence of wine. What then, could have changed? Indeed, this problem is new to wine cellars. Natural stone cellars, which have been less affected by this problem, have a natural propensity to breathe thanks to the inherent qualities of stone. Thanks to this natural vapor exchange, mold which forms in the humid cave atmosphere does not transform into the taste and smells that we associate with mold. Only one material has the capacity to recreate stone and all its natural positive properties: lime.
As we have seen thus far, every element plays a vital and important role in making wine. In cases where a wine cellar is considered and treated as an ecosystem—a principle often cited by Alain Vauthier, owner of Chateau Ausone—the first positive results have been observed.
A most important principle has also surfaced that all the different stages involved in making wine play important roles and enter into the composition of a wine. It is not the choice of a certain cork or the confidence in a certain brand of oak barrel that will save a wine from this contamination. It is all these elements combined. TCA pollutes wine and is a result of every element of the wine’s environment. Nothing can be left to chance. Only through careful vigilance will the wine be protected.
With this in mind, the enological laboratory Excell was established to create hygienic, environmental and quality and standards for wine. In order to address all these contamination problems, the Excell laboratory has established the “Label Vert” (Green Label), awarded to products that guarantee the absence of contaminants. Wine professionals have had complete satisfaction and success with Saint Astier products that have been designated “Label Vert”.
Architects who specialize in the wine industry greatly value hydraulic lime for all its unique advantages and a wide variety of uses ranging from lime concrete and washes, to bedding mortars and plasters.
“Wine is a natural product, coming from the earth…The materials that I use and advise to use are all derivatives from hydraulic lime, the only natural material that can breathe”, says Philippe Maziere, a noted architect who is renowned for his work on such celebrated projects as Chateau Margaux, Chateau Yquem, Chateau Latour, or even Chateau Pichon Longueville, Chateau Prieure Lichine…
Our ancestors knew how to protect wine from contamination. Why not learn and benefit from their wisdom and use natural, real products.
The importance of building material when fighting TCA :
As we have seen all throughout this study, each element within a wine cellar or facility is important. One simple factor can negatively impact the ecosystem. As a professional, you are the first one concerned with such problems. Your constant preoccupation is to preserve the wine from pollutants that can alter the composition of the wine. Why not further pursue this path of caution by using simple, natural, and proven products?
Known for its easy application, its affordable cost, and its natural beauty, hydraulic lime has been used for centuries and valued for its high vapor exchange capacity, which reduces the risk of mold, fungus and consequently the development of TCA.
This natural simplicity gives lime an exceptional advantage in sensitive environments. Hydraulic lime does not contain any additives and is a green product—used in construction as a mortar, plaster, stucco or for floor applications.
Wine growers in France and the world over have understood for a long time that lime is the most dependable and viable solution to this problem.
…Certain chemicals used in building are liable to contaminate a building’s environment. This contamination can be easily transmitted to products stocked within the building or may even be spread through the movement of air. These elements, or secondary elements emanating from a process of deterioration, can negatively affect the enological process—such as imparting a moldy taste— and can also affect the hygienic environment of the stocked goods… Read more…The Excell Method
Excell laboratory website
…The Chatonnet-Labdie team came up with a great concept. Their concept was that the corky taste in the wine could not possibly come from the cork itself, but from the wine before it was corked.
What they discovered was serious. Of the wines they tested, more than 95% exhibited a corky taste and was contaminated before the corking, while stored in tanks or barrels, by a vitiated atmosphere… Read more…In Vino Veritas (English) Read more…In Vino Veritas (French)
Articles appeared in In Vino Veritas N° February 21, 1995
Chlorophenoles aren’t a normal component in wine, their presence constitutes a contamination. This study highlights the contamination of the walls in wine caves, by the application of paint or additives used during the white washing of the walls that contained chlorophenoles. That caused the acceleration of chlorophenoles in the wet environments of these cellars. Analysis of the walls of the tanks and the walls of the cellars reveal contamination in both, depending on the level of impurities and the size of the containers, the tank walls are possibly the contaminant of the wines stored there. Read the Chatonnet Study in English Read the Chatonnet Study in French
By Dr Pascal Chatonnet and Dr Jean-Noël Boidron – Professor at the Institute of Oenology of Bordeaux
Wine Undesirable Components
TCA Probably Contemporary Wine’s Worst Threat
Ernesto de Serdio
When an historical Sonoma winery discovered its facilities were tainted with TCA…
The San Francisco Chronicle
Gallo finds winery tainted with TCA
The Press Democrat
Links and Contacts:
LABELL VERT EXCELL or “Green Label” in France. This label guarantees the total abscence of contaminants and any risk of pollution. It also authorizes the use of this product in chemically sensitive areas such as wine cellars.