Amorim, one of the world’s biggest cork manufacturers, is the first to produce cork oak wine stoppers that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified as environmentally-friendly in a move intended to protect cork oak forests, which are home to numerous threatened species.
The new eco-labelled wine bottles, currently sold in the US, should encourage wine buyers to choose bottles stopped with cork oak rather than increasingly popular synthetic alternatives.
Cork wine stoppers are made from cork oak bark, which can be harvested whilst leaving the tree intact. Cork forests in Italy, Spain, Portugal and North Africa are home to Barbary and Sardinian deer, the endangered Iberian lynx and wild boar.
But the forests are now threatened by the growing popularity of synthetic wine stoppers. Plastic and aluminium wine stoppers accounted for 20% of the market in 2006, compared with 2% in 2000. Synthetic stoppers are cheaper than cork because each oak tree takes 40 years to mature – growing cork oak is less cost effective than other forest crops such as fast-growing eucalyptus. There is also no risk of ‘corking’ the wine. This is where a chemical in the oak gives the wine a mouldy odour.
A spokesperson for the WWF told the Ecologist that if world demand for cork oak is not maintained: “2 million hectares - three-quarters or all cork forests - could be at risk from fire, abandonment or desertification”.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist August 2007