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Alentejo,Portugal,Wine,Wine Business

Cork, it’s what’s for dinner

When I buy a bottle of wine, a cork closure is as much a choice for me, as is the wine.

Having read a story about cork in the Wall Street Journal called, “Plastic or real cork: Which is the better way to seal a wine bottle?” it got me thinking, and I became interested enough to actually sign up for being able to comment on their Website.

My comment was:

CORK: I’ll always choose natural over unnatural.

There’s something warm and aesthetic about cork, and it’s biodegradable.

I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled through the cork forests of Portugal, I know that taking cork from a tree is like sheering sheep. After harvest, the trees are marked with the year they were harvested, and allowed to grow more layers for the next nine years. (Imagine how tiny a cork would be if only one layer was allowed to grow before harvest.) It takes nine layers to return the cork’s depth to a point that will allow for the creation of more usable cork with depth for wine bottles.

If we have the ability to remain natural, what is the advantage for people and the environment to become unnatural?

In this picture of a cork tree I took while there, you can see that it was harvested in 2007. I took this in November 2009, and it was two years later, so you can barely see the date. It does continue to show in the bark, so cork harvesters know when the tree is ready once again.

I know that plastic, glass, and stelvin closures (twist offs) are alternative, and have created lots of jobs for lots of people, but I’m still an old hippie, as my friend the Cosmic Muffin used to call me. Old hippies love things from the earth, crafted by the hands of men and women… Pottery, jewelry, arts and crafts, and cork closures.

What’s very interesting to me is in my Q&A sessions with wine writers. I ask this question,

What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?

I’m willing to bet, without having to go back and read each answer, that 95 percent of the respondents answer that screw tops are the innovation that they most enjoy. I might even answer that one with the same answer, but I still love cork, too… most especially now that I’ve seen cork trees first hand, and stopped at a cork yard to take pictures of harvest. I now have a deeper appreciation of cork’s unique attributes.

In the WSJ story’s comments, of the 11 comments only one person wasn’t familiar with cork, and thought it might hurt the trees to harvest from them. Once she had it explained that it’s a natural process, she went in the direction of cork.

Madalena Santos wrote, “I just want to mention four advantages of the Cork:

  1. The wine really needs to breathe
  2. Cork is 100% recyclable and the plastic (zero)
  3. Energy consumption of the plastic products cycle is much bigger
  4. Plastic is not a natural product (see what happened in supermarkets – they have eliminated plastic bags because they were a threat to the environment)

Also, excellent links were given by people supporting cork:

Save Miguel! Rob Schneider finds Miguel! Very cute and worth watching…

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6 Responses to “Cork, it’s what’s for dinner”

  1. Don Phelps says:

    The one comment I would offer that was not suggested would be that with the stelvin closure you never have to worry about a bad bottle of wine due to TCA. Having had to ship replacement bottles around the country due to a spoiled wine ends up in all of the carbon savings generated from originally using a cork being wiped out a thousand fold. Of bigger concern for not using the cork is what happens to the cork forests, which are some of the more diverse environments in Europe. Fortunately there are many alternative uses for the cork in flooring, wall covering, etc.

  2. Chris Cunningham says:

    The idea that corks “breathe” is a myth. We in the industry have a responsibility to stop telling people otherwise. Dr. Richard Peterson famously said back in the 1960’s, “Show me a cork that breathes and I’ll show you a bottle of vinegar.” Here’s a link to a summary of 50 years of research:

    http://wine.appellationamerica.com/wine-review/548/Cork-Breath.html

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    Yes, they don’t allow for wine to be corked (TCA)… but, I’ve found some stelvin nearly impossible to open, and have nearly sliced my opposite hand int he process… so, I’m back to cork that takes less to produce in “the field,” and goes right into my “green” recycle bin.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for the link, Chris.

  5. Lloyd Foster says:

    I don’t know how one could write an article on the subject of cork and leave out the single largest argument against the use of natural cork: TCA. The companies who are responsible for the vast bulk of cork production seemed to turn a deaf ear as the number of corked (trichloranisole infected) bottles per hundred were continuously escalating. Anyone who has aged a beautiful bottle of red wine for fifteen or twenty years (even less) only to open it and smell the wet cardboard, damp basement spoilage of TCA will have a hard time listening to the arguments about how cork is better for the environment. The companies that produce cork didn’t care about what their product does to cause wine spoilage and it has caught up with them. Worse, the average wine drinker doesn’t understand or recognize TCA and they just think brand X doesn’t make good wine and avoid brand X wines in the future. What winery would subscribe to such a business plan?
    I was in the wine business for thirty plus years and I have to say that when you have a virtual monopoly as the cork producers did, you should pay extra attention to detail and not rest on your laurels as they did. They have finally awakened to the issue but the horses have left the barn and I have a hard time finding sympathy when they brought this on themselves.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    I’ve been there with that bottle that was aged, so I know your pain.

    But, Lloyd, I don’t mind the inconvenience of some TCA, even the old aged bottle. Nothing is perfect in life… Nothing.

    I’ve now been in the business for 22 years, and have opened thousands upon thousands of bottles, all around the US for hundreds of wine companies (I’ve worked for many wine companies, some of them with imports, as well as . I’ve probably come across 20-30 bottles in that time. Not a bad average, I’d say, when you consider what it takes to harvest a tree, versus the industrial manufacturing that goes into creating stelvin closures, including the paints and wastes.

    Also, as you’ve just said, “They have finally awakened to the issue,” but the horse hasn’t left the barn for me and many others, based on all the bottles I’m still opening with cork in them.

    It’s all about balance and what’s important to all of us. Stelvin is important to you, and cork is important to me. As someone I know likes to say, that’s why there’s chocolate and that’s why there’s vanilla.

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