For centuries, cork has been the material of choice to seal bottles of wine. What is it about this material that makes it such a great choice? And how exactly does it get from tree to Tempranillo? Read on below to learn more!
Where Does Cork Come From?
Cork is actually the bark of the Quercus suber – more commonly called “Cork Tree” – that grows in countries along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, including Portugal, Algeria, France, Italy, Tunisia, Spain and Morocco. The bark can be harvested once every 8 to 14 years after the tree reaches the age of 25.
How Corks are Made
To make corks, workers harvest the outer layer of the cork tree’s bark. The resulting slabs of bark are boiled and washed to get rid of dirt and also to make them more pliable. Long cylinder shapes are then cut out of the cork slabs to make formed corks. The leftover bits are cut into cork slices or ground up into pieces that can be used to make agglomerated corks.
Types of Corks
There are many different kinds of natural corks, mostly differentiated by the ways in which they are produced: agglomerated, multi-piece, technical, etc. For more information, check out this terrific post by Wine Folly.
Natural cork is a renewable and sustainable resource, and one that is closely monitored by industry to prevent overuse and depletion. According to Cork Forest Conservation Alliance “there is [currently] enough cork to close all wine bottles produced in the world, for the next 100 years” – even if no new trees were planted. In part, this is because cork trees don’t need to be cut down for the cork to be harvested – only the outer layer of bark is removed, and this layer is regrown over the next decade or so. Though resource use must always be monitored, modern corks forests are increasingly responsibly managed, and sustainability practices are at the heart of the industry.
Furthermore, because even the leftover bits from the first round of cork production are put to use making other kinds of corks (such as agglomerated corks), cork production generates virtually no waste. Natural corks can also be composted or recycled to make other consumer products (including cork flooring) – or bring them back to the store, and we’ll use them to generate funding for local charities!
What to do with used corks?
There are tons of resources on the internet that can help you make creative use of your leftover corks. For craft ideas and DIY projects, check out our Pinterest boards for inspiration and how-to guides.
Not handy with a glue gun, or just not interested? Donate your corks! We collect used wine corks at the store, and sell them online in our Etsy store. 100% of the proceeds are donated to charity. Since 2011, we have raised and donated more than $500 to local and national charity organizations, including the Yonge Street Mission, the Toronto Humane Society, AYNI, United Way, the World Wildlife Federation, Sunnybrook Hospital’s Odette Cancer Research Center, Habitat for Humanity Durham, Feed the Need in Durham, and others. We look forward to raising much more, with your continued support!
Extra Credit Reading:
Looking to learn more about cork production, or the different kinds of cork available? These websites are a wealth of additional information:
“How Wine Corks Affect Aging Wine” (WineFolly)
“How Cork is Made” (Wine Anorak)
“Cork FAQs” (Cork Forest Conservation Alliance)
“Cork: A Model of Sustainable Business” (Switchboard, the NRDC Staff Blog)