More Wineries Pledge Loyalty to Cork

In late July we ran a story on the cork industry’s push to slow the momentum of synthetic alternatives to natural cork.  American wineries’ use of cork has declined from 90% to 70% in recent years, and not just run-of-the-mill cheap table wine producers were switching from cork to aluminum or plastic.

Having been lulled into complacency while ignoring the complaints of tainted cork by some wineries, cork producers in Portugal and Spain waited until it was almost too late–plastic and aluminum stoppers are becoming more popular.  Now the Portuguese government-backed cork industry is coming out swinging, and has ramped up its public relations campaign, rolling out a web site as well as staking out a presence on Facebook and Twitter.  Flush with a budget of US$3 million, the 100 Percent Cork campaign is also hosting events and giving away tickets to events while hosting others.  The initiative scored a coup, too:  Rutherford Wine Company, a Northern California wine producer, has pledged to only top its bottles off with 100% cork.

The Portuguese Cork Association and its American counterpart, the Cork Quality Council, are treating Rutherford’s pledge as a victory, and has pledged to showcase Rutherford at various events the organization sponsors.  As of press time, Rutherford has not responded in kind—there is no mention of the cork campaign on its web site.  It’s a win-win situation: one party lands a marquee name, the other some free publicity.

While construction debris and packaging for consumer goods create the most landfill waste, the cork industry continues to tout statistics, as stated in a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, about the amount of greenhouse gas emissions synthetic stoppers contribute to the atmosphere compared to those from naturally harvested cork.  But other reasons exist to direct wineries towards tree cork as a wine bottle sealer, and not just because of tradition.  The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) documents the value of cork trees and threats to their existence.  Portuguese cork cultivators are determined to avoid the fate of cork trees in Northern Africa, where poor land management, harvesting techniques, and shift towards cash crops have decimated cork tree forests.  While most cork trees are protected in Portugal—the evidence suggests that cork trees will not just disappear if the wine cork industry disappeared tomorrow—careful stewardship of the forests is what keeps these forests in Iberia thriving.

The 100 Percent Cork Site needs more heft in order to reverse the tide towards synthetic caps.  The bullet points extolling cork are impressive, but need more data to back them up (is the cork forest really the 2nd largest “bio-gem” in the world?  If corks are recyclable, what should consumers and restaurants do?).  It is an uphill battle:  the UK’s Tesco sells a majority of its wines with synthetic stoppers, and 85% of Australian wines and 45% of those in New Zealand wines use aluminum screw caps.  For now the cork industry’s message drifts between advertising and educating:  more of the latter is needed.  And meanwhile, wineries need more of an incentive to return to cork—they need more convincing that cork were the best alternative.  Oddly enough, the USA, of all places may be a sustainable industry’s greatest hope.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

6 responses

    1. Interesting–you’d do best to emphasize the 1st two points–the third point, convenience, is a bit weak as even folks with all thumbs have access to great wine bottle openers that make it a breeze. Let’s see what happens!

  1. Leon,

    We appreciate your thoughtful criticism about the 100% Cork campaign and will be working to add more heft.

    FYI, Rutherford was using nothing but cork long before they were introduced to our campaign. It was one of those fortunate circumstances where our interests and values aligned.

    Be well,
    Lance Ignon
    100% Cork

    1. Nice to hear from you–but your PR folks didn’t leave that impression–and it seems to me if this is so great, you should push Rutherford to put that info on their site–otherwise it doesn’t pass the “so what” test.

      You need to come up with data proving that cork is superior to screw caps–as the fellow above claims.


  2. I work for the Rutherford Wine Company. I’m sorry you got the impression that our endorsement of natural cork was motivated by free publicity. Using all natural corks is only a component of the family and company commitment to sustainability along with transitioning to lighter weight eco-friendly glass. Additionally, the family is one of the largest organic grape growers in California.
    “Cork taint”- the off flavors and odors imparted to wine from corks containing the chemical TCA- has been greatly reduced by the efforts of the cork industry and by many wineries (including ours) batch testing corks for the chemical’s presence.
    We gladly support an industry that nutures rather than destroys forests. And we still enjoy the time-honored ritual of uncorking a bottle of wine (and sometimes keeping that little piece of bark, rather than hunk of plastic, as a momento).
    We will be including some of the cork industry’s efforts on our web site very shortly.
    Mark Dolin

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