Even in infinitesimal amounts, chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) can cause irreparable damage to wine.
Commonly known as cork taint, the presence of TCA brings moldy, musty aromas and a complete loss of fruit flavor in wines. Though famously associated with contaminated corks, the chemical is also present in almost all woods, as one esteemed California winery recently found out to its detriment.
As reported by Wine-Searcher, Opus One, the high-profile joint venture between the Rothschild family and Constellation Brands, filed a lawsuit against four California- and France-based cooperages early December, after receiving TCA-tainted barrels.
The details of the lawsuit remain private, though Opus is believed to be suing Alain Fouquet French Cooperage, Bouyoud Distribution, Tonnellerie François Frères, and Alain Fouquet & Associates Inc. for around half a million dollars. The sum would cover the cost of lost wine, as well as testing expenses for the affected barrels, said to be 10 from an order of 150 received in 2016.
But it’s a complicated case and one that many in the industry believe will be settled well before it reaches the courts. Some of the obstacles standing in the way include how to value the wine —cost price or retail value?— the level of detectable TCA in the barrels and wine, and the details of the contracts between Opus One and the cooperages.
This is not the first time a winery has sued because of cork taint, yet cases normally involve cork, rather than barrel suppliers. Victory for Opus One could set a new precedent for the responsibilities and liabilities of cooperages.