Cork wine stoppers are a centuries old staple of the wine industry. Yet, more and more, we see plastic wine stoppers and metal screw caps. I think metal screw caps are a great closure for picnic-friendly wines that are meant to be drunk TODAY. But for just about all other wines, I think cork is the ideal closure. There’s just something satisfying about hearing that lovely “pop” when pulling a cork from a dusty red.
I recently did some research on how cork wine stoppers are produced, and I wanted to share what I learned with you. I hope you will reach the same conclusion as I did – that the production of cork wine stoppers offers many environmental benefits, plus a lot of beauty.
Cork is grown in Mediterranean climates – humid and warm, with little rainfall. The most well known regions are Portugal, Spain and Italy. America is the third largest importer of corks, behind France and Germany.
Cork oak forests range in the millions of acres, and are some of the most heavily regulated and treasured resources. They are home to abundant wildlife, including rare bird and animal species such as the black lynx. Due to the rugged terrain, work done on and around the cork trees is manual. The cork forest is truly beautiful.
Cork is stripped the first time at 25 to 27 years, depending upon the girth of the tree and the thickness of the bark. Unless done improperly, stripping cork bark does not kill the tree, and this is very important to understand. A cork tree lives for up to 200 years, producing a cork harvest every nine to 13 years after the first stripping. This is all done manually with a special axe following precise cutting methods.
After cutting, the strips are weathered outdoors six months on concrete. They are then boiled for 90 minutes, killing insects and bacteria. Quickly dried, they’re left to rest three more weeks until smooth. Thereafter, they are graded and bored, either by machine or manually. An intense inspection process occurs, where cork is hand sorted into various quality grades.
Hundreds of hours of manual and automated labor go into creating corks, which overall remain very inexpensive (from 2¢ up to slightly over $1 for the very best ones).
The cork is then coated with paraffin and silicon for ease of extraction from bottles and additional insulation. Voilá—you have a beautiful, compressible, minimally permeable, lightweight bottle stopper that looks lovely.
The remaining cork plant is recycled and used for hundreds of other purposes, from champagne cork tops to flooring, shoes, insulation and clothing. It is truly a minimum waste industry.
From a beautiful cork forest to a beautiful bottle of wine, we hope you appreciate this natural resource and enjoy it even more when you hear that lovely “pop!”
Interesting note: One square inch of cork oak holds millions of tiny 14-sided polyhedron cells, giving it its flexible yet super strong structure.
Cork joke: A cork retriever is not a dog from Ireland ☺
If you have strong thoughts about cork wine stoppers, please share them here.