Mar 19, 2010

Science Scene - Cork Harvesting

Next time you’re in the supermarket looking to buy a nice bottle of wine: think cork. Although it’s not widely known, the cork industry is helping to sustain one of the world’s most biodiverse forests. Spreading across 6.6 million acres in southern Europe (France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy) and northern Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) oak cork trees Quercus suber are actually preserved and protected by the industry.

"First and foremost, the trees are not cut down; the outer bark is harvested, by hand, every 9 years. This allows the tree to consume 10 tons more carbon dioxide," explains Patrick Spencer to "The trees in these managed forests live 250-300 years. In maintaining sustainable farming practices, farmers ensure the health of the cork tress in this fragile eco-system."

Spencer is the director of an organization called Cork ReHarvest, which has provided another reason to buy cork: it's recyclable.

"Cork is a natural, environmentally friendly product," Spencer says. "By recycling cork, we reduce the amount of product going into landfills and create 'green jobs'. The recycling also brings awareness to the Mediterranean cork forests and their importance to the planet’s ecological health."

If cork stoppers are replaced by aluminum or plastic caps it will place the rich ecosystems of the cork forests in jeopardy: without providing jobs and income, the forests would likely be converted in many areas. Currently, the cork industry employs 100,000 people across the Mediterranean.

In addition, according to Spencer cork is far and away the 'greenest' option for wine bottles. For example, aluminum screwcaps cannot be recycled like cork because "the plastic closure in the top of the cap and the size of the screwcap make it almost impossible to recycle."

"[Cork] has been the closure of choice for 300 years," Spencer says. "All of the great vintage wines that collectors have purchased or won at auction have been closed with natural cork. Recently, a very rare bottle of Bordeaux sold at auction for $25,000.00. The winner put their faith in that little piece of wood, that the bottle of wine was still drinkable. That should tell you something about cork."

For the entire article and an interview with even more information, click here.


  1. The aluminum screwcaps don't bother me as much as the fake plastic "stoppers". Miss Ginger has ruined several good corkscrews trying to get those stubborn things out!

  2. Sad to say, but a lot of vintners are now going screw-cap--which, goddess help me, I still think means "cheap" wine--or the plastic cork.
    Shame, since cork harvesting is such an ecological necessity.

  3. Ken I found this very interesting ~ I don't think I could pay $25.000.00 for a bottle of Bordeaux weather or not it had a CORK stopper :o) ~ Ally x

  4. I collect corks from bottles of wine or champagne that hold significance to us due to the celebration attached.

  5. Came across and article in Food & Wine and thought of you. There's an organization Korks 4 Kids that collects corks and recycles them. Proceeds go to various children's charities. I'll be saving my corks from now on.

  6. Love this post Ken. That link has a lot of punch!


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