The wine industry is making sincere efforts at going green. Amongst the environmental choices wine makers face is whether or not to use real or synthetic corks in their bottles. But chalk these efforts up to the law of unintended consequences. Or, as the old adage says, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." In the effort to save the endangered ecosystems of Portugal's cork forests, an entire industry that is both traditional and sustainable may be put out of business, which in turn could further threaten those ecosystems.
This is a two-year old report, but one that bears repeating.
Under the headline, "Decreased Market for Cork Threatens Sustainable Livelihoods, Endangered Species in the Mediterranean Basin," EarthTrends writer Therese Tepe filed this story:
"As traditional cork stoppers for wine are being replaced with synthetic alternatives, 100,000 Mediterranean Basin residents supported by the cork industry await an uncertain future. Cork harvesting and production has provided income to residents in a landscape where other economic means are limited. Cork harvesting also occurs without actual tree removal, retaining wildlife habitat in a uniquely biologically diverse landscape. A handful of severely endangered species have found refuge in the cork forests, but many fear that their fate is tied to that of the cork industry."
"Cork is the cambium bark of the cork oak tree. It is peeled away from the tree truck every 9-10 years, the interval needed for regrowth, after a tree has reached about 45 years in age. This harvesting is often done traditionally with hand tools since a comparable mechanized method does not exist. This low impact harvesting allows for other enterprises such as cattle grazing, game hunting and mushroom harvesting to take place in the understory. Unlike the oil-based alternatives, the finished product is also biodegradable."
Later in the article, Tepe goes on to write:
"Driving Forces of the Cork Market Decline"
"Declining cork stopper use in wines has been attributed to many factors, including tainted wine and cheaper alternatives. In the 1980’s, fairly or unfairly, corks were associated with increasing incidents of tainted wine. Also, synthetic stoppers and screw tops are a ninth of the price."
"The decline in cork stopper usage has not led to appreciable reductions in cork oak landscapes yet. In fact, the National Cork Quality Council states that due to good management and recent replanting, cork forests are currently expanding. However, it is widely expected that the decreased economic value of cork will increase pressures to exploit other resources from this landscape, resulting in habitat degradation and a long-term decrease in the land’s value."
This is a cautionary tale involving some hard choices for both consumers and winemakers. Hopefully, the cork forests, animals and traditional industry can all be saved.
To read the rest of the story, you can click here.