What the Cork?

Cork trunk close-up

Where is cork grown?

Cork is, as you may know, the natural bark of the cork tree, which is a noble oak species (Quercus suber) and a true national treasure in Portugal, where an estimated 70% of the world’s trade in cork is created. Despite common misunderstandings, there is no shortage of cork because of over-harvesting or too many wine corks being used worldwide. The trees are grown and cared for with the utmost pride and dignity in “montados”, essentially orchards, largely in the rural southeast of the small and friendly country where the growing season is long and warm and dry, with just enough rainfall and perfect winds, and the soils are ideal for their health. This same region, where the cork oaks can live for up to 300 years, is also well known for outstanding olives and wine grapes – splendid agriculture, indeed.

How is cork harvested?

The harvesting of cork is not a process that harms the tree or shortens its life in any way; in fact, the product is remarkably renewable and sustainable specifically because the removal of the bark (which occurs under strict practices only every 9 years, at times even up to 10 to 12) is done only by expert cork harvesters who understand the delicate hand process, does not damage the trunk, and maintains the disease and fungus-free health of the tree. As the bark regenerates itself for the next 9 years, it absorbs CO2 and creates a rich forest environment with reduced erosion that is beneficial to a variety of other plant and animal species, many quite rare. And generations of local family farmers are able to maintain a decent livelihood.

Peeled from the trees and most commonly carried from the forests on foot or by small cart, sections of the bark sit in the sun to dry for six or more months before being boiled, to remove remove bacteria and lichens, as well as to make them pliable. Natural, beautiful, lightweight and waterproof in all of its different forms, it can be used for wine stoppers (still the number one end-product), worked into rustic thick objects, or sliced into shockingly durable thin sheets that are as versatile as they are innovative. The wear is similar to leather, but cork can withstand constant exposure to water, grease, dust and dirt, is hypoallergenic and vegan.

Eco-friendly, durable, waterproof: Authentic

Plenty of today’s new synthetic materials are cool and convenient and handy, to be sure. But the naturally beautiful, tactile, sustainable, ecological coolness of a product so old-school that it has been used to close precious wine bottles since the 5th century is, well, just so autĂȘntico!