Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Cause Worth Toasting

"What contemptible scoundrel stole the cork from my lunch?"
W.C. Fields ~ You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939)
Picture of a cork oak forest in Portugal.

In the interest of blogger disclosure I need to start this post with a confession. I attempt to live a green lifestyle largely when it suits me. I use re-usable grocery bags, have converted most of my lighting to CFLs, have programmable thermostats, etc. But when it comes to always eating local and in season, driving a gas sipping automobile, and the "staycation", I just haven't been able to make the change.

One thing I thought I was doing to be green was to buy most of my white wines and red table wines with screw caps. I thought that these metal caps must surely be more environmentally friendly than the conventional cork that probably came from a different country than the wine and they're used only once then discarded, or in my case horded in tins under the bar for some yet to be determined craft.

Turns out that I'm wrong. According to an article in the Telegraph the reduced demand for real corks is having devestating consequences. Cork oak forests cover 6.7 million acres worldwide of marginally arable lands, but that are rich with biodiversity and support rare species such as Iberian lynx, the worlds most engangered cat, black storks and booted eagles. In Portugal for example 33% of the country is planted with cork oaks.

Over 70% of the cork harvested annually is used for wine stoppers, but with alternative closures gaining in popularity over the past decade cork demand is down, perhaps by as much as 20%. Cork oaks, which take 45 years to reach maturity, then nine years before a tree can be harvested again. Each tree produces enough cork in each harvest for an astonishing 4,000 wine bottles.

The two problems most wine producers have been attempting to avoid by switching to cork-alternative closures are first costs, real top quality wine corks are more expensive than the alternatives and second the potential of wines becoming "corked", where the wine develops a musty smell becomes undrinkable due to contamination with a chemical known as Trichloroanisol, have turned many consumers off natural corks.

From a purely aesthetic perspective nothing can replace the ritual of removing a real cork, inspecting it (please don't smell it), and even saving special corks from special bottles or special occassions. The next bottle you pick up at your corner store or wine merchant make sure it has a real cork, it's a small way to be green.

Close-up of a cork tree partially stripped of it's bark.

Cork harvested from a plantation air-drying before being cut into wine corks.


Team Wicanders said...

In an effort to be one of the few dinner guests you'd like to share time with, discussing thoughts that inspire, and learn from actively listening to others, we humbly invite you to read the story on our blog about The Whistler Tree and the Angel Oak, which will truly support your latest blog post about A Cause Worth Toasting. Then, if you have a minute we would love to know your thoughts...
From us,
Team Wicanders

Athenaeus said...

Team Wicanders - You have a great blog on all things cork, particularly your beautiful flooring products. I agree with you that cork is a beautiful, durable, and sustainable material.