by Robin L. Obert

My next few articles will focus on facts and fiction about corks and wine closures, one of the most significant aspects of our wine pleasure!

Great news first! There is NOT a cork shortage! We have enough cork to seal all of the bottles of wine produced over the next one hundred years or more!

Harvesting the bark for corks only takes place for a very short time frame: May through August. To harvest at any other time could cause permanent and devastating damage to the tree. Oh, the tree! The vast majority of corks are produced from the “Cork Oak” AKA Querces Suber. These beauties grow over 60’ tall and up to 4’ in diameter! The first harvests are conducted when the tree reaches approximately twenty-five years old. The first couple of harvests are of poor quality. These trees are amazing! They have protective qualities that shield them from the devastating effects of forest fires! The damage heals exceptionally fast.

It is estimated that there are over six million acres of cork forests in the world, Portugal being one of the most prominent producers! The Terroir of Portugal makes the ideal conditions for the cork trees to thrive! At one time, Spain was the main producer, and is still thought (by some) to produce the highest quality in the world. Unfortunately not true for attempts to grow these trees in the United States.

Is your desire to go green? Cork is one hundred percent sustainable! When managed responsibly, they are harvested approximately every nine years and can be harvested up to two hundred years in age! These trees are not cut down!

In 3000 BC, cork was used as bobbers for fishing. Rags soaked in oil were used as barriers for the wine. The first container using cork as a sealant was found in Ephesus (a Greek City) dating back to the 1st Century. Amazingly, it still contained its wine! How amazing is that?

Next month we will talk more about other wine closures, the good and bad merits and (again) negate some myths! There have been entire books written on this subject matter. We could write for a year about these, but I promise I won’t!

Until next month, CHEERS! And, please don’t smell your cork! It tells you nothing about the quality of the wine! Oh, by the way, do you know why your server opens the bottle in front of you and presents the cork to you? Back in the day, servers would retreat to the basement and pour very cheap wines into expensive (looking) bottles. So, the guest would pay substantially more for a lesser wine! Wine drinkers BEWARE!