Cork is a natural material. It is a wood product that comes from the bark of the Cork Oak tree (Quercus Suber), a medium sized evergreen and broadleaf oak tree that grows to heights of 65 feet (20 meters). This tree forms a thick bark, that over time develops into a thickness (up to 15 cm) that is suitable for producing wine bottle stoppers. The bark is removed from the tree by hand every 9 to 12 years. Harvesting the bark in this way does no harm to the tree. The Cork Oak only grows in the Western Medeterranean.
Since the Middle Ages, Cork Oaks have been grown in open woodlands called Montados that are grazed by sheep and cattle. These open woodlands are also home to a unique ecosystem that includes rare and endangered wildlife. You can learn more about cork and the Montados by visiting the World Wildlife Fund. Cork Oak trees are protected by government and managed by farmers. If not valued highly enough, there is a risk that the government will end its protections and the way of life will not be attractive enough for the descendants to continue to participate in the lifestyle of caring for the trees.
Cork Trees are under threat as are their ecosystems.
The wine cork industry was slow to modernize and as a result, some large vintners claimed that corks tainted and ruined their wine. Alternatives to cork stoppers were developed. The wine cork industry modernized, producing wine corks in factories that are pharmacutically clean. The alternative stoppers became popular because of their significantly lower cost comparred to real cork stoppers. The loss of market share for cork has now become a threat to the Cork Montado eco-system. Developers are another potential threat to the Montados as is desertification that is now threating the southern edges of the Cork Montados.
Cork = Quality, it is as simple as that. On an optimistic note, the market for wine is actually larger now than ever before in human history, so demand for all types of stoppers has grown. Cork cannot compete on price with non-cork alternatives, so it must compete on its qualities. Quality wines are often more desirable when stored and aged with cork stoppers because as the wine breathes through the cork, the wine flavor is slightly influenced by the cork. Thus, environmentally conscious and quality wine drinkers can have a positive impact on the Cork Montado eco-system.
Concern for cork. If the market for "real" cork does not remain strong enough, the land will eventually be developed and all of the rare and endangered wildlife that inhabit the Cork Montados. as well as cork's unique and special qualities will be lost.
What can we do? All of us that purchase wine can make an effort to only purchase wine sealed with real cork. Look for a label on the bottle indicating real cork. Contact your favorite wine producer and ask them to use real cork; and if they already do, ask them to mark their labels clearly to indicate real cork. Help to raise awareness by talking with friends, write about it, share lists of brands that use real cork. Do what you can to cause more cork products to be used in new construction and in renovations both commercial and residential. These steps can help make a difference -
- Purchase wine with real cork stoppers.
- Ask your favorite vintner to use real cork.
- Talk and write about using real cork.
- Use more products made with cork.
- Specify cork for construction projects.
- Recycle wine cork stoppers.
Yemm & Hart is recycling used wine cork stoppers to be reused in other products and materials, such as crafts, tiles and sheet. Since Yemm & Hart began recycling used wine cork stoppers in 2004, numerous other wine cork recycling ventures have spawned. Support all recycling efforts for cork as a way to keep the conversation going about the value and importance of cork, and the eco-system that it is part of.
Wine Cork Tiles are made by mixing whole wine cork stoppers with granulated cork and a food grade polyurethane binder. The mixture is pressed into a block or cylinder which is then sliced into thin sheets. Sheets can be cut into tiles or laminated to a substrate. The result is a cork material that has visible profiles of whole wine cork stoppers. A cork product made in this way allows the material to acknowledge its origins. We at Yemm & Hart, like to believe that such a material might help raise awareness about cork and increase its usage in all of its forms.
Thank you for considering how you can be a part of protecting a part of our environment.