Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Unfinished Cork Project

Shortly after throwing away a bag full of supposedly useless wine corks, I received a gift in the mail: a wooden frame to use to make a big cork hot plate. The idea is that you fill in the center area with all the corks you would otherwise throw away and have a unique hot plate to show for it.

That was 2 (or even 3?) years ago. I don't remember exactly. I started to collect the corks again. But in the meantime the wine industry changed gears. It stopped making wine stoppers out of cork, using a plastic substitute instead. Perhaps it was for environmental reasons, like saving the cork trees from over harvesting. Or maybe the aziende agrigole realized that there was no risk is selling a bad bottle that tasted like cork without real cork stoppers. Anyway, the fact remains that it has become virtually impossible to regularly find real cork, even in Italy.

This is a picture of the state of my cork project:

I buy wine. I live in Italy, so I often drink wine. I like a glass at dinner. But here I am with only these corks to count after all these years! I need double that to finish the plate! I even thought of asking a café or enoteca (wine shop) owner to pass on some of her stoppers to speed up the process, but then my plate would lack my own history in its completion. I want to know I actually drank those different wines featured by the corks. I also want to see the visual variety of the various brands. The enoteca owner will probably just give me dozens of corks from the same brands of tocai and merlot (popular regional choices).

The funny thing is that now a new labor protest in going on, led by the cork peelers. These people are losing their jobs because of the drop in worldwide cork sales. The country of Portugal claims part of its bad economy on the drop in this single field! Now the workers are campaigning to get the wine industry to start using the real stuff again, claiming that it is environmentally better because it's natural. But is it sustainable?

In Italy, Sardegna's the largest cork producer. I haven't seen any Sardinian cork protesters picketing during this crisis season, but they are probably suffering, too.

So is topping bottles with cork good or bad for the environment? I'm confused.

What's your opinion?

It's just such a great material: soft yet hard, light, solid yet airy, and heat-resistant, best of all.

Read and watch more about the cork scene at Time magazine and at Sughero Naturale.


  1. I have a similar project for a noticeboard but we have noticed there are less real corks available.
    I personally hate the plastic corks or screw tops that seem to be creeping in!

  2. Screwtops on wine, yikes! The Italians haven't let things go that far away. At least the plastic versions still look like corks. Good luck on your noticeboard! I hope you finish faster than me.