Cork Forests Threatened by Wines with Screw Caps, Synthetics

Here’s a contrarian story for wine enthusiasts… One advantage of the gradual industry conversion from natural corks to synthetic corks and screw caps, not to mention Tetra Paks and bag-in-box packages, would have to be less destruction of cork trees, right? Well, according to the highly authoritative Scientific American, the opposite is true:

The quercus suber, or cork oak, which grows on both the European and African sides of the Mediterranean, provides the raw material for practically all the 20 billion wine corks used every year.

The way cork is harvested — shaved off the sides of trees like the way a sheep is shorn — means forests continue to thrive as they give up their valuable bark. In Sardinia, the only region in Italy that produces cork, the forests are a haven for wild boar, a species of hawk native to the island and Sardinian deer. The highly endangered Iberian lynx roams the cork forests of Spain and Portugal, the global leader in cork production; in North Africa the forests provide a habitat for Barbary deer.

The concern is that if the market for wine corks is greatly reduced, the cork forests would no longer be viable as economic properties. They might be destroyed and replanted with a more profitable product, like the fast-growing eucalyptus.

So, a strange alliance has been formed:

Cork producers and environmentalists are fighting back. Aiming to cash in on the demand for ‘green’ products, they have started to produce corks certified ‘environmentally friendly’ under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) scheme, an ‘eco-label’ system already widespread for timber products.

Backers of the FSC scheme hope ‘green’ wine buyers will prefer a bottle with the FSC label. Cork makers hope it can guarantee their future by differentiating their traditional product from the upstarts. [From Plastic, not axes, threatens cork forests]

It seems a bit like PETA-friendly leather jackets, but the wine business sometimes produces strange bedfellows. So, do your part – help save a cork forest by cracking open a bottle of wine (but only if it has a natural cork)!

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