Cork Needs Us: Environmental Wine Drinking

Wine lovers everywhere have been hearing less and less of the classic pop as many winemakers have transitioned to sealing bottles with material other than cork.  Metal screw tops and plastic stoppers abound in the wine world, but despite what you might think, real cork is actually the most environmentally friendly and ethically sound method of sealing wine bottles.

From Webster’s Wild Shots.

Environmental Benefit of Cork

Cork farming and harvesting is one of the most environmentally friendly processes in agriculture. The trees do not need to be cut down to renew supply and they can be harvested every nine years. Furthermore, the trees can live to be up to 300-years-old, so one tree can be harvested many times in its life.

While growing their bark, the trees absorb carbon. Moreover, the amount absorbed multiplies by five when they are being actively harvested. Harvesting significantly improves the carbon storage, benefiting the productivity of the tree and helping the environment.

Mediterranean cork forests grow in Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France. Together, they support the second highest level of forest biodiversity in the world, coming in behind only the Amazon rainforest.

Finally, after being used for sealing a bottle, wine corks are fully biodegradable. Alternatively, metal screw tops do not recycle due to their size. Plastic stoppers don’t either, and they also are difficult to extract and put back into the bottle. Some people also criticize the plastic for putting a chemical taste in the wine.

Flickr, by SonofDemoy.
Flickr, by SonofDemoy.

 Social Benefit

Because the trees live to be quite old, cork forests and the associated harvesting communities are longstanding. Growers harvest by hand and they teach the skills to the younger generation, making the forests an important part of Mediterranean culture and tradition.

Harvesting provides a way of life and a source of income for thousands of people in the growing areas. By preserving cork and using it in our wine bottles, we help sustain these people’s livelihoods as well.

From Cork Forest Conservation Alliance.
From Cork Forest Conservation Alliance.

The majority of old-world winemakers still use cork and one such winery we love is the Poliziano winery in the Comune of Montepulciano of Italy. Their organic wine growing practices and their use of cork make them an excellent choice for an environmentally friendly wine.

More facts and lists on organic wines to come in the future.

For more information on cork forests, visit the WWF’s page on this topic or this organization devoted to conserving this traditional, environmental practice.


Katie Jeddeloh

Gastronomy Content Contributor

Katie Jeddeloh is a third year undergrad at St. Olaf College where she studies English and Women's and Gender Studies. Katie is an earth enthusiast and poet, and she loves growing, cooking, and talking about food.