During the last year I’ve read about the importance of cork trees and recently read another article on the topic in Living Bird magazine, which expressed concern that wine bottlers were replacing cork stoppers with plastic or screw caps.
Main takeaway: The cork stopper in your wine bottle represents a rich history, vital income for generations of Europeans and a key to conserving European birds, plants and a number of endangered species.
A quick history: Numerous references date from 3000 BC about cork’s use as stoppers for casks as well as floats, women’s footwear and fishing tackle. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus referred in wonder to “the ability that this tree has to renew its bark after it has been removed.” Its use with wine was well established by the time Pliny the Elder explained in his celebrated Natural History that the trees were adored as symbols of liberty and honor.
Why cork forests are important:
- Found primarily around the Mediterranean, cork forests offer one of the world’s highest levels of forest biodiversity including endemic plants and endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Imperial Eagle, and the Barbary Deer.
- Thousands of family farmers have depended for generations on cork harvesting (the bark regrows) as their income source. The trees live 250-300 years, with the cork bark harvested every 8-10 years.
- The forests absorb millions of tons of CO2 each year and in turn provide oxygen. They also prevent desertification of this region.
What happened: A combo of factors – tainted wine (caused by a chemical compound TCA) that occasionally occurs with cork and a monopoly by the cork producers, helped usher in screw caps and plastic caps.
What’s bad about the other caps? Critics say these are not sustainable products, are not actively being recycled in the US and are not biodegradable. They’re energy wasters in comparison to a natural cork (one source cited 24 times more greenhouse gasses and over and 10 times more energy is used when making one screw cap.) The fear: as cork forests sit unused, they’ll be converted into eucalyptus plantations or Mediterranean resorts.
To help: CHOOSE WINES with CORK – You can check your favorite wines at the website Corkwatch
For more facts and info, see Cork Conservation Forest Alliance
Another article –National Wildlife Federation