Spotlight: Sustainable Cork

Do you remember a time when all wine and champagne bottles had a cork stopper? I barely do – I was only just old enough to start drinking alcohol when plastic corks were introduced. Not long later, screw top lids came in. I thought these were both great ideas. I’m not great with a corkscrew. Inevitably, small bits of cork would end up in my wine. It’s not so hard to pick them out, but you know… it’s a pain. Especially if you’re on your third bottle. Not that I would drink that much…

So anyway, I tended to choose bottles with plastic corks, or better yet, screw-top lids.

I won’t be doing that anymore. Now it will be cork every time for me.

Why the sudden turnaround? Well, I was reading some Fake Plastic Fish articles yesterday, and found an old piece on cork. I followed the links and found a link to the Cork Oak Landscapes section of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) site. It includes an article and a beautiful video outlining why the cork industry is important. (There’s no spoken audio so it’s accessible for Deaf folks.)

This WWF news clip on Youtube paints a more detailed picture (sorry, no captions).

Essentially, plastic stoppers and screw-tops have reduced the demand for cork. As a result, some cork farmers are leaving the forests behind (moving to the cities to find work) or replacing them with non-indigenous tree plantations (like pine or eucalypt). This action is increasing susceptibility to desertification, fires and the extinction of native species (like the endangerd Iberian Lynx). Note that cork production in Mediterranean areas has been going on for millennia, so this is a pretty major change.

What amazes me the most about cork production though, is that it’s extremely sustainable. The trees don’t get cut down – which contradicted my (admittedly hazy) ideas about cork manufacture – but are in fact carefully looked after so they can continue to act as the livelihood for generations of the same family. To make cork, the bark is harvested. This bark then regrows and is harvested again. This is done with specially designed axes that don’t harm the trees. Cattle graze in the forest, keeping the grass low and reducing the risk of fire. Overall, it’s a natural, environmentally friendly way of life that we should be looking to preserve.

Instead, I’ve been unknowingly destroying it by choosing lids that are marginally easier to remove. Bad hippy. I know I didn’t do it on purpose, but I feel kind of guilty; I want to go buy copious amounts of corked wine to make up for it, but I won’t, because I just don’t drink that much. Instead, I’m posting here, in the hope of spreading the word.

So guys, listen up! Buy wine with real corks! Save the cork forests and the animals and this gentle way of life!

P.S. If you need a reason to buy cork that is closer to home than Portugal, how about not poisoning yourself with the petro-chemicals plastic stoppers are made of and screw-top lids are lined with? Give it a try.

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