Cork: Perfect For The Wine Bottle “Pop”

Twist…pop…pour.  The cork releases a gentle river that flows from the tilted wine bottle and swirls into the glass.  No matter the language, culture or occasion, people enjoy “popping the cork” and enjoying wine all over the world.  In SLO County, the wine culture has been thriving – and growing – for years.

Have you ever stopped to think about just what it takes to keep that delicious nectar at its peak in the bottle?  Well, it’s all about the cork!

Why Use Cork to Plug the Wine Bottle?

portugal-and-barcelona-2016-2016-11-18-018All-natural cork is a unique, sustainable substance that is perfectly suited for stopping the wine bottle. Cork stoppers are actually made right out of the bark of a cork tree 52 years after it has been planted!  That’s right, after 52 years, and the third harvest of the outside bark of the cork tree, the first harvest for actual wine bottle corks is produced.

One cork stopper has over 800 million cells, which act as suction cups against the wine bottle neck. All-natural cork also allows the wine to breathe, which aids in the aging process while remaining impermeable to liquids. Cork is lightweight, flexible and compressible – all necessary characteristics to sealing wine in a bottle.

Portugal is Home to a Majority of the World’s Cork Trees

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Over 50% of the world’s cork production comes from Portugal, where I recently enjoyed a lovely afternoon watching Lusitano horses roam at will under some beautiful cork trees.

Portugal‘s Mediterranean climate of low rain, sunny skies and warm temperatures make it an ideal locale for growing cork trees. All tree bark is essential for protecting and keeping the sap and nutrients flowing through the tree. Cork trees, however, have two bark layers: an inner and an outer. A new inner layer grows each year and the outer layer gains thickness. To keep track of harvest years, numbers are written on the trees to indicate when the bark was last harvested.

A cork tree’s outer layer is cut from the tree and harvested every 9 years after it matures at 52 years. 52 years is how long it takes for the outside bark to grow thick enough for cork bottle stoppers. The first two harvests are used for jewelry, flooring and other cork items. Thus, one man can plant cork trees that his grandchildren will harvest from; making cork farms truly an inheritance. For more information on how cork is harvested read How Cork is Made.

cork-trees-at-sunset

Not all Wine Corks are Created Equal

cork-christmas-treeAs you may have guessed, not all wine corks are “all natural cork”. There are actually various types: from 100% natural to cork-dust and glue to all-synthetic corks, each type bringing its own set of pros and cons. The top-grade and most expensive are 100% all-natural cork. Icon and Premium wines, which benefit from aging in the bottle, require a 100% all-natural cork. All-natural cork stoppers are punched directly out of the cork bark, then cleansed and prepared for the wines they are designed to hold back.

Agglomerated corks combine cork bark scraps and glue. However, these corks do not tend to hold up as well, so if you’re buying wine with this type of cork, its best to use the wine within two years. For more information on wine corks read this article on the 5 Main Types of Wine Corks.

Wine Cork Art

With a new appreciation for cork you may be wondering about the other uses for this fully-sustainable, all-natural product. Because it’s “that time of year”, maybe it would be fun to get crafty with your “corks” – here’s a fun horsey craft idea for the Holidays:

Horse Wine Cork Ornament

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For Horse Wine Cork Ornament directions follow this link > Wine Cork Horse

 

All pictures of the horses and cork trees were taken at Polo Equestre de Rio Frio. This cork tree farm also houses one of Portugal’s top level cross country jumping courses.


Looking for places to sip wine which have a connection to horses here in SLO County? Check out our Wine and Whinnies section under PLACES where we’ve visited a few ourselves.

Horse and Cork Photo Credit: Sharon Jantzen

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Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family.

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