Sustainability is often described as a combination of attributes including environmental stewardship, community support and economic viability. The cork industry is often cited as a model for a sustainable industry, as its scope includes the protection of valuable environments and, by its very nature, is dedicated to renewable and recyclable practices.
It is easy to see why the WWF Is enthused with the cork forest and its use. The cork forest is a vital ecosystem that plays a crucial role in halting desertification throughout most of the region. It is home to numerous endangered species, and provides a richly diverse habitat to flora and fauna. Most of all, the forest is utilized by a cork industry that has created legal protection for its preservation.
Cork trees are harvested every nine or ten years. The trees are not cut down and can be expected to live for 200 years. This makes the industry a near-perfect example of renewable production. Cork Oaks are normally found in scattered stands of indigenous growth, they require no soil preparation, irrigation, pesticides or herbicides. Harvesting is almost entirely manual with the only use of power equipment used by the occasional tractor to carry harvested wood to a central location.
A simple summary of the manufacturing process shows a pattern of washing, drying and cutting. There is no call for widespread use of chemicals – and when used they are generally tame and safe substances like hydrogen peroxide – which is used in the final washing.
The UN has reported that forests in North Africa play an important role in both environmental protection and poverty alleviation. They strongly endorse the processing of non-timber forest products such as cork as a crucial step to support the environment, employment and growth.
The cork industry is widely credited with protecting the cork forest, which is an important source of grazing habitat, hunting and tourism.
It is the wine business, however, that drives the cork industry and has been the focus of the most attention. The past decade has seen the cork industry invest tens of millions of dollars in research and application of new methods designed to position cork to remain as the leading wine bottle closure of the future. Newly developed systems of washing, material handling and quality control have already created great improvements in quality and consistency. Much of the past emphasis has been on reducing the incidence of cork taint. Though the chance of occurrence is not eliminated – most customers of CQC members acknowledge the improvements and estimate the occurrence at less than 1%.
Future research is anticipated into the role natural cork plays in the flavor development in wines. While most sensory comparisons between natural cork and other closures focus on oxygen permeability, many feel that the association of natural cork with “developed wine flavors” is caused by more than natural cork’s superior performance as a barrier. The roles played by other flavor components found in natural cork have not been fully studied.
Cork harvesting is an environmentally friendly process during which not a single tree is cut down.