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Saturday
Jun112011

Amorim 140 years and the story of cork 

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.

 

 

Media Release: 3 March 2011
AMORIM ACHIEVES WINE CORK SALES RECORD 
Amorim, the world’s leading cork producer, has announced record annual 
sales, with more than 3 billion wine stoppers sold in 2010.
The outstanding sales volume figure was included in the company’s 2010 
financial results released last week.
Amorim’s Cork Stoppers Business Unit — the company’s core business —
posted a sales volume increase of 13.8 per cent, further consolidating its 
position as the world’s largest supplier of wine stoppers.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read all about it.

 

 

 

 

I will continue bring you stories about cork and its amazing qualities

Please leave a comment or question  if you wish.

Donna Jackson

 

 

Reader Comments (7)

Can we get some more info on the time of decomposition of cork in landfills? I've seen found mighty old looking corks in strange places that showed little or no sign of rotting... Could it be the chemicals used to treat the corks for TCA?

Nonetheless, I have a Love-Hate attitude towards cork. I think the best approach would be to produce cork for quality and NOT for quantity. Inexpensive, fresh wines simply fare better under screwcap. That said, here at the winery, we wouldn't think of using screwcaps on our finest wines, but we also insist that the quality of the corks on these special bottles be very very high. On most cases, the quality is as it should be. On other occasions, the quality has been VERY disappointing.

Last point, then I'll leave the debate, for now...
Imagine a world where cork closures were a NEW product... Imagine a salesperson trying to convince a prospective client to buy cork closures...
"The failure rate is only about 5%!"
Who would buy a product with a failure rate of 5%? If Apple made iPods with a 5% failure rate, would anyone buy one?

Just food for thought...

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Young

Interesting post, who knew there was so much to know about cork? I'm pretty much agnostic as far as my bottle stoppers go, screw tops or corks are just fine with me.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReverse Wine Snob

Cork is the closure of choice at Messina Hof Winery. We have been making wine in the Brazos Valley of Texas for 35 years. Amorim happens to be our cork supplier and the quality is excellent. People ask us always if we will change to screw cap or silicon. We tell them that cork is nature's provision for wine closures and that as long as it is a viable agricultural crop as it is today, we will continue to use it.

Not only do we use their corks in our wine but we work with cork fashion suppliers who use the waste from the cork to make beautiful hats, bags, shoes, belts, etc.
Cork is beautiful, soft like velvet, supple, and uniquely artistic. The pours in the cork create beautiful patterns that remind me of fossil. It is sophisticated and sexy.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMerrill Bonarrigo

It was great for me to saw this industry even if for me there is so many pro and cons with cork.
During late 80's and 90's cork was not at their best quality and that's one of the reasons who explain the development of the alternative enclosure solution.
For me the better one is screw caps because it's without any TCA, it can be as good or better as cork for wine elevage and customers do not need any screw pull. And trust me or not but when I was retailing middle and hight wines in Sydney it was one of the trop criterion of selection.
But that's right it's not sustainable as cork.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVincentpetre

I must admit to having reserved enthusiasm, in anticipation of this visit. As an Australian, I fall into the category of 'skeptic' when it comes to appreciated the time-honoured traditions of cork. I was expecting to see examples of those horrid, and dirty scenes associated with poor processing practice, which were frequently illustrated in University textbooks. In that respect, I could not have been more surprised by the images that confronted me. In this day and age, firms like Amorim recognise the frustration that new-world producers experienced with corks in the 20th Century. The change that this sector has undergone in a scant decade is a case study on what can be achieved when the business environment demands change. Instead of seeing dirt-encrusted sheets of cork-bark lying exposed to the elements on mould-enducing pallets, what I saw was a slick team of employees, implementing a high standard of quality control at every stage of the process from tree to delivery. I could not have been more impressed with what I saw.
However, in response to the eventual question of whether I believe that cork is the only closure for wine, I remain cautious. The process that I witnessed in Portugal has restored my faith that this closure has a bright future in the wine sector. But, as I explained to Carlos on the day of this visit; "People have long memories". Does this mean that the difficulties in using cork have gone, or is this process more to do with window-dressing? It's true that cork 'taint' has diminished to a point that it is much less a problem than ever before. If they can figure out how to make cork extraction more convenient, and reduce the variability of oxygen ingress, There'd be very little competition from other closures...
In any event, the experience was truly memorable. Thank-you to Amorim
And Vinocamp for combining these two amazing events!
response from Damian Wilson @Winebusprof

seems like cork education is doing its job, we will never all agree on this debate, but like Winebusprof I too was pleasantly surprised at the production facility, efficiency and sustainabilty already implemented that I saw.
thanks for your comments keep em coming.

We recently switched the flooring in the bedroom to cork and I must say that it is one of the better decisions we have ever made. It's now so comfortable, I sometimes end up falling asleep on the floor.

flooring perth

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheodore Hindenburg

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