Cork is still the hands-down favorite closure for wines sold in the U.S. because it both allows wine to age properly, and is part of the romance of wine. Have you ever heard of someone saving a screw cap from a memorable dinner?
But corks are also the favorite closure for the environment. They’re biodegradable, recyclable and sustainable. And their use encourages the stewardship of one of the world’s richest ecosystems—the cork oak forests of the Mediterranean Basin.
These are not your average forests. For starters, they’re gigantic, covering an area about the size of Maryland. They prevent large portions of countries like Spain and Portugal from turning into deserts, provide habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species and sustain generations of family farmers.
“Choosing wine enclosed with high-quality cork protects 7 million acres of extremely valuable habitat that are vital to our biosphere,” said Jim Bernau, founder and president of Willamette Valley Vineyard. “And it makes the wine taste just a bit better.”
Cork bark has been used since antiquity for a variety of purposes, and has been used as a wine and Champagne closure for several centuries. There is no shortage of cork and the trees are never cut down for their bark. Instead, a portion of the bark is removed every decade, which actually improves the tree’s health.
But the forests are threatened, not by drought or disease but by artificial wine stoppers.
“The increase in the market share of alternative wine stoppers, specifically plastic stoppers and screw-tops, could reduce the economic value of cork, leading to conversion to other uses and (the) loss of one of the best and most valuable examples of a human-nature balanced system,” read a study by the World Wildlife Fund.
A growing body of evidence suggests there are health benefits to moderate alcohol consumption. In the case of wine, there’s also a benefit to the health of the environment when it’s sealed with a natural cork.