Is it greener to buy wine with traditional corks or screw tops? —Matt, Breckenridge
Since we love our vino at the Steward house, we’ve been wondering the same thing, Matt. As you know, screw-tops and synthetic corks are becoming increasingly popular on a variety of wines. Natural cork offers breathability and helps wine age, though it occasionally taints the wine’s flavor and odor, which is one of the reasons screw-tops and plastic corks are being used more frequently. As much as we enjoy wine, we aren’t connoisseurs qualified to comment on how different cork stoppers affect wine quality. However, we have discovered that traditional corks are more environmentally friendly than their screw-top or plastic cork counterparts.
Cork is a natural and renewable resource harvested through an environmentally-friendly process. Cork is the bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber) and renews itself after harvesting. Cork is harvested by hand every nine years without cutting down the trees. After harvesting, cork renews itself and the trees may live up to 300 years. Approximately 6.6 million acres of cork forest extend across the Mediterranean region. These forests are a vital source of income for tens of thousands of people and support one of the world’s highest levels of biodiversity, second only to the Amazon rainforests.
If demand for cork decreases, cork forests may be converted to more profitable crops or abandoned, likely leading to more development. According the World Wildlife Fund, this could result in increased poverty, more forest fires, loss of biodiversity and faster desertification. Now that we’ve educated ourselves, the Steward household feels like we’re contributing to a better world just by drinking lots of wine this winter!
And after we’re done imbibing, we save our corks to reuse them. We’ve made corkboards and trivets, or sometimes we cut up the corks and use them as mulch for our plants. Natural cork can also be recycled into many products, including floor tiles, foot beds, insulation and bulletin boards. Whole Foods offers drop boxes to recycle corks in all of its stores, or more recycling info is available at www.recork.org. Natural cork can also be composted, and is accepted through our local composting program and processed at the High Country Compost Facility.
Of course, selecting wine based on cork type is only a small part of the equation. More importantly, the Steward family tries to purchase organic or Colorado wines. For a wine to be labeled organic, it must be made from organically produced grapes and contain no added sulfites. Sulfites occur naturally in wine, but they are also often added to wine as a preservative to reduce bacterial growth. While there’s a debate about the widespread health effects of sulfites, a portion of the population is allergic or sensitive to sulfites. And unlike a decade ago when organic or Colorado wines were hard to find (and frankly not that tasty), our local liquor stores are now filled with many affordable and delectable organic wines.