New Zealand Wine copper german customs scandal
By Patrick Gower
5:00 AM Saturday Dec 1, 2007
A New Zealand winery whose shipment of pinot noir was rejected by Germany because it contained too much copper has bottles with similar levels for sale here.
The Te Kairanga 2006 Pinot Noir on shop shelves has 2.09 parts per million (ppm) of copper in it - more than double the recommended limit set by the European Union. But New Zealand has no set limit for copper in wine and the Food Safety Authority says wine drinkers need not be concerned.
The Weekend Herald had the copper levels of 10 wines tested after it was revealed that a 4000-case shipment of Te Kairanga pinot noir was turned back by a German company that found its 2.4 ppm of copper breached the European Union limit of 1 ppm.
The testing found that all but the Te Kairanga pinot noir were within the European limit.
Te Kairanga acting chief executive Ian Frame said it was "no surprise" there was a high level of copper in another of its wines - they were similar wines and copper was added to take away the smelly characteristics associated with the sulphur compounds formed in the winemaking process.
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Mr Frame said the copper levels were within the good manufacturing practice standards set by the Food Safety Authority, which say copper "should be kept as low as reasonably achievable".
"There isn't a safety issue, and we don't have an ethical issue," Mr Frame said.
He said Te Kairanga had not decided what it would do with the returned wine.
Food Safety Authority principal toxicology adviser John Reeve said the authority had examined the safety of adding copper to wine this week after the German rejection and there was no associated health risk with copper - an essential element for humans - at levels of around 2 ppm.
"You would need at least 200-300 parts per million before you got above the acceptable daily intake," Mr Reeve said. "The wine would be blue and it would probably have a metallic taste too, which wouldn't go down too well."
Copper is not routinely checked for export certification in New Zealand. Nor is copper checked in wine for sale in the New Zealand market.
Industry body New Zealand Winegrowers is unconcerned about the rejection, saying the German market is "pedantic about rules and regulations", with the addition of copper in wine a long-standing technique.
Wine writer and critic Keith Stewart, who revealed the wine had been rejected from Germany, said consumers had to ask themselves if they were happy with the industry self-regulating the use of additives in wine.
* Small amounts of copper are sometimes placed in batches of wine to remove the smell of sulphur that can occur in the winemaking process.
* Copper can also occur naturally. What are the health effects?
* Copper is actually a daily requirement for humans. The amount in wines could actually help fulfil this.
* An overdose could cause serious problems such as liver damage and kidney failure.
* However, the less severe overdose symptom of vomiting is likely to prevent too much being ingested.
NZ wine rejected over copper
By Martha McKenzie-Minifie
5:00 AM Monday Nov 26, 2007
A New Zealand winery's 4000-case shipment of pinot noir has been rejected by a German company because it said the level of copper in the wine was well over the European recommended limit.
The incident has worrying implications for New Zealand's $700 million export wine industry and has put the spotlight on the use of screwcaps on wine bottles.
It is understood the copper levels in the Te Kairanga pinot noir were 3.6 parts per million (ppm) in a wine that was bottled and labelled specifically for the German customer.
The European Union standard for copper residues is 1ppm.
It is possible other exported wines do not comply with residue levels, as copper is not routinely checked for export certification in New Zealand. Nor is copper checked in wine for sale in the NZ market.
Te Kairanga acting chief executive Ian Frame said the wine did not meet the customer's strict requirements but he was unable to provide details.
He was not concerned about the rejection. "The product is not branded Te Kairanga, and in all the other countries we deal with this is not a problem."
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New Zealand Wine chief executive Philip Gregan said he was not worried that the incident would blemish New Zealand wine's reputation internationally. Germany was known as a "stickler for technical points" in the wine world.
"They are just very pedantic about rules and regulations," said Mr Gregan. "If there's an issue that comes out of a customer in Germany, it never surprises me."
Copper is required in small quantities in humans but an overdose can cause serious problems such as liver damage and kidney failure. Less severe overdose symptoms include vomiting and problems with co-ordination or movement.
In the wine industry, copper is often added to wine as it eliminates smelly characters associated with organic sulphur compounds that can form during fermentation and bottle ageing.
Traditionally it is added to bulk wine at very low levels and is filtered out before bottling.
Some industry sources say its use became more common as screwcaps increasingly replaced corks.
"Everybody was adding far too much when they first started using screwcaps," said Bruce Kirk of the food chemical supply company Scios. "That has eased off now, and if anything copper use is going down."
But Lincoln University food and wine group leader Dr Roland Harrison said copper had been used for years and he did not believe there had been a screwcap-driven rise.
* Additional reporting - Keith Stewart