On a recent visit to Lisbon Portugal for Vinocamp Lisbon, I was fortunate enough once again to be included in a trip organised by Amorim, this time to watch cork being harvested from the forest near Alentejo, and then to visit the factory to watch the entire process from when the bark is stripped from the trees, hand-sorted and expertly trimmed by men with knives in the factory, right down to that branded cork that we take out of the bottle without much thought - something I will never do again, I now have great respect for the journey
So twenty or so of us Winos from around Europe, set out early one morning from Lisbon with Carlos and Joana our hosts on a bus that had gathered us up from our hotels and so we were soon heading for the countryside. After watching a facinating cork harvest, something that will stay with me forever, we drove further on down dust roads to a lovely picnic spread for us under the trees at a lake. The fantastic spread was in true Portugese style, we feasted like Royalty and enjoyed the fabulous Quinta Nova wine * my video review on Quinta Nova Wine with Rui Paula here , that is part of the Amorim stable. This year Amorim celebrated 140 years in cork.
What I learned about Cork
THE STORY OF CORK
Cork is a renewable commodity that is havested from evergreen Oak trees.
The cork oak in Latin .. Quercus (oak) Suber (cork)
The first stripping occurs when the tree is between 15 and 20 years of age.
Subsequent yields follow at 8 to 10 year intervals.
The world's cork oak forests are concentrated in Southern Europe; Portugal, Spain, Italy & France, which accounts for 67% of the cork oak production. North Africa has the remaining 33%.
The total land surface occupied by this oak is 2.2 million hectares (5.434 million acres) of which Portugal and Spain represent 56%.
The industry employs more than 15,000 workers in factories and commercial departments!
The industry also employes 10,000 seasonal workers for the cork harvest and the maintenance of the oak forests.
The sale of cork and cork products by producers, to the European and United States market, exceeds $1.5 Billion U.S. Dollars annually.
Of this value, the cork stopper is $1.1 Billion U.S. Dollars.
The sale of agglomerated cork, cork flooring, and other related products approx $400 million U.S. Dollars.
So back to Amorim in Portugal and this particular cork Harvest.
Who does the harvesting?
The same familes that have worked for generations in this highly skilled field.
It is seasonal work, and more than one of our party (myself included were comtemplating doing this job which pays well ) . We quickly realised that climbing tees while deftly cutting the bark free for it to fall to the soft earth below without scaring or cutting the tree, is not so easy.
So we watched and filmed and listened to Carlos and Joana in rapt attention and learned a lot.
What happens to the tree once the cork is stripped?
It is marked with a number and left for another 9 years to grow new cork.
It's a renewable resource
Does the cork being stripped harm the tree
It's a bit like removing the hard skin on your feet it will leave your feet exposed and tender for awhile, and then re-grow to protect you.
What about the alternatives to cork like plastic and screw caps are they not more sustainable?
Well this is along going debate. I personally prefer cork and always will, because its part of the tradition of wine, its more romantic, does a real good job of protecting the wine, and may even impart something to the wine, and with recent improvements in technology will go on doing its job for centuries to come as a renewable resource.
TAKE PART IN THE DEBATE HERE LEAVE US A COMMENT BELOW ON HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT CORK, GOOD BAD?
What else is cork used for?
Cork has amazing properties and has been used for centuries in so many applications. Today cork is used for insulation, flooring, shoes, handbags, fashion garments, and to manufacture so many other products.
Is Amorim a stakeholder in the sustainabilty issue?
Very much so, and as I discussed with CEO Antonio at the factory, they take the future of cork and its protection very seriously, they also employ thousands of people across the worldin this labour intensive manual work, in all their international and regional facilites. They are also constantly improving their facilities. Every tiny piece of the cork is used even the cork dust which is burned to fuel the factory. Water used in the factory is also recycled.
I will continue bring you stories about cork and its amazing qualities
Please leave a comment or question if you wish.