When next you uncork a bottle…

This is something to think about when you pop the cork on your next

Cork: Harvest for the Patient Farmer

Have you ever wondered where that cork in your bottle of wine comes
from? The answer is most likely to be Spain or Portugal , where
over half of the world’s cork is harvested – it is in fact the
National Tree of Portugal.

However, unlike other forms of forestry, the production of cork
never involves the death of a tree. Instead, they are gently
stripped, leaving a strange but fascinating landscape of denuded

All of this takes some time. Cork trees can live to over two
hundred years but are not considered ready for their cork to be
removed until they are at least twenty five years old. Even then,
the first two harvests do not produce cork of the highest quality.
it is not until the trees are in their forties that they produce
premium cork.

Once the trees have reached the maturity age necessary to produce
high quality cork, they will then be harvested every nine years.

In a tree’s lifetime, it can only be harvested (the process is
known as extraction) about fifteen times. Little wonder then, that
in Portugal and Spain the propagation of the trees and the
production of cork has become an inter-generational industry, with
farmers still producing a crop from trees planted by their
great-great grandfathers.

The cork must, however, be extracted from the trees without causing
any lasting harm to them, otherwise, nine years later they will be
useless. Extraction takes place in the summer when the tree is
least susceptible to damage. The poor cork which is produced as
a result of the first two harvests is known as male cork; later
extractions provide what is known as gentle cork which is what
you withdraw from a bottle of wine, the contents of which it helps
to flavour.

The extractors are skilled at their job. They make two cuts to the
tree. The first is a horizontal cut around the tree. This is known
as the necklace and an incision is made at a height around three
times the circumference of the tree. A series of vertical cuts are
then made, called openings or rulers. This is the point at which
the extractors must use the most strength but at the same time be
at their most gentle. They push the handle of the axe into the
rulers and prise the cork away from the trunk.

If the cuts are too deep or impatiently done then there is a risk
that the phellogen of the tree will be damaged. This is the cell
layer which is responsible for the development and growth of the
periderm of the tree, its bark. Damage this and the tree will
produce poor or no cork in the future, it may even die. So
strength and gentleness must be used in equal measure during the

Once the cork is extracted it is stacked in layers and left to dry
out. Once that has taken place it is taken to be processed.

The technique used leaves the trees alive and the environment

cork production is said to be one of the most eco-friendly and
recyclable harvests on the planet.

Not only is cork easy to recycle, it prevents the local environment
from becoming arid and so actively helps to maintain rare
ecosystems. In addition to that, the cork oak forests of the
Iberian Peninsula are home to a number of endangered species which
would find it much harder to survive without the presence of the

Although 60% of the cork extracted is still used for bottle
stoppers (despite the recent predilection for using alternatives)
cork is an essential component of a number of other things as well.

If you are a badminton fan, without cork you would no longer be
able to play. it is a vital component in the manufactureof
shuttlecocks. Other sports rely on it too, the centres of baseball
bats and cricket bats are also made of cork.

Cork is also a great material for use with insulation. It is
non-allergenic and easy-to-handle and should it catch fire, its
fumes are non-toxic like other man-made insulation materials are.
The different segments of woodwind instruments are fastened
together by parts made from cork and not only that, the baton of
your concert conductor will most likely also be made out of this
versatile material.

Cork has many other uses, including components of the fairings and
heat shields of spacecraft.

Ultimately, the fascination is in its production which leaves so
many trees stripped and bared to the elements which gives the
landscape of many parts of Spain and Portugal such a unique

Barry: From what I’ve learnt from my wine tasting club
(www.facebook/wineinsight/), the cork stopper in wine bottles does
not give any flavour, it simply allows a very slow oxidation on the
wine which smooths the tartness of the tannin.

Blogger Barry: Thanks for your time. Hope you enjoyed. Please
use the comment and follow buttons.

Barry Blomkamp Nd. Bsc (UL)
Professional Public Speaker, Trainer and Corporate Entertainer,
Motivational speaker, Guest & Key note speaker, Seminar &
Conference speaker, Team Builder, Comedian, Master of Ceremonies,

For your Strategic Planning sessions, Management or Sales meetings,
Conferences and/or Seminars, Award functions, Year end parties,
Christmas parties,

Cape Town, South Africa.

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