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

Ignoring the complaints of tainted cork by some wineries, cork producers in Portugal and Spain waited to respond to this threat until it was almost too late—now plastic and aluminum stoppers are becoming more popular.  Now the Portuguese government-backed cork industry has fought back, 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 hosts events and gives 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.

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 surge 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?).  Cork producers face an uphill but not insurmountable 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.

And to get the perspective of screw cap fans, you can get their thoughts here.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.