Cork is a unique substance and the perfect closure for wine. A totally natural product, cork is environmentally friendly, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable. There is enough cork today in the forests of Portugal to last more than 100 years. Under a reforestation program, Portugal’s cork forests are now growing by four percent a year on average.
From Bark to Bottle
To produce cork, a cork oak (Quercus Suber, or Sobreiro in Portuguese) must be at least 25 years old. A cork oak can live as long as two centuries. To harvest the cork, the outer bark is stripped from a cork oak once every nine years. The tree is protected by an inner bark, which is always left on the tree. The harvested bark is boiled and purified. The corks are then punched.
The cork industry is environmentally friendly and truly sustainable. In Portugal, for example, the protection of cork by law has resulted in thousands of acres of protected forests. In return, these forests protect hundreds of species of birds, animals, and plants. The cork industry also sustains more than 15,000 employees in remote areas.
The wine cork is one of the most natural products in use in modern consumer society. Made entirely from the bark of the cork, wine cork is completely biodegradable.
Cork has been used for thousands of years. The most widespread application in cork’s history is as a wine closure, a use that began in the 17th century when Dom Perignon chose the bark of the cork oak as the perfect sealant for his champagne and it grew with the spread of mass-produced glass bottles. Portuguese cork has brought the world all of its greatest wines.
Cork’s Living Forests
According to a recent study by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the use of natural corks by the world’s wine industry sustains a variety of rare wildlife in the cork forests of Southern Europe.
These cork oak woodlands, known as “montados” in Portugal, have been used to produce cork and graze livestock for centuries, making them a haven for wildlife. Forty-two bird species depend on them, including the endangered Spanish imperial eagle (with a global population down to 130 pairs), as well as rare species such as the black vulture and black stork. Smaller birds, such as robins, finches and song thrushes, migrate to the Iberian Peninsula’s cork forests from northern Europe, along with blackcaps from the United Kingdom. In spring and summer, the cork forests are home to a rich variety of butterflies and plants, with more than 60 plant species recorded in just one square meter. In more remote parts of these protected lands, the rare Iberian lynx can still be found.
The cork oak is the only tree that can regenerate its bark. Natural wine corks are made from the bark of these trees, which are stripped every nine years. One particular tree, known as the “Whistler Tree” because of the many singing birds attracted to it, is said to be 212 years old. It is estimated that this tree alone had produced 1,000,000 corks by the year 2000.