A study was carried out a few years ago by PriceWaterhouseCoopers to look at the environmental impact of different wine closures, considering cork, aluminium and plastic options. What they looked at was the lifecycle of each type of closure to work out the cost to the environment of 1,000 closures, in terms of energy, water consumption, air pollution and solid waste. The cork industry has been saying for a long time that cork is one of the most environmentally friendly products on the planet, as it comes from sustainable indigenous forests, where the trees are not cut down when the cork is harvested, but left to regenerate so that they can be harvested again.
However, even given the fact that cork trees themselves are obviously only of benefit to the environment, processing the cork obviously has an environmental cost, because it requires machinery for some parts of processing (although natural cork production is still largely manual), transportation, disinfecting and so on. Below is a table showing the main statistics to emerge from the scientific study:
Environmental Indicator Type of Closure
. Cork Aluminium Plastic
Non-renewable energy consumption 102 442 497
Water consumption 26 13 41
Emission of greenhouse gases 1,534 37,172 14,833
(g CO2 eq./1000 closures, direct 100 years)
Contribution to atmospheric acidification 1.3 8.3 2.1
(g H+ eq./1000 closures)
Formation of photochemical oxidants 3.5 14.0 5.1
(g ethylene eq./1000 closures, average)
Contribution to the eutrophication of surface water 0.6 0.7 0.9
(g phosfates eq/1000 closures)
Production of solid waste 3.7 7.4 5.8
The main conclusions that can be drawn are that:
- Corks stoppers use less than a quarter of the energy required to make plastic or aluminium closures
- Aluminium closures produce 25 times more greenhouse gases than cork and twice the solid waste (plastic around 10 times the gases and 1.5 times the solid waste)
- Aluminium produces significantly more atmospheric pollutants that contribute to acid rain and photochemical smog
- Cork requires more water to produce than aluminium closures, but less than plastic
Many consumers are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact that packaging has; so many products from supermarkets have traditionally come with superfluous packaging that is frequently not biodegradable and made from non-renewable and polluting sources, but over recent years, consumers have been demanding change and many more environmentally conscious brands have listened and adjusted their packaging.
It is really time that wine producers and wine consumers consider the impact of the packaging that they use – aluminium screw top closures might be convenient for some and plastic is no doubt a cheap alternative, but convenience and price should only be a part of the equation. Cork is a beautiful and natural product and it would be a tragedy for it to be overlooked as a closure for wine in the rush to save money and save drinkers the trouble of whipping out a cork screw (and didn’t that used to be part of the fun of opening a bottle of wine anyway?!).
At CorkLink we are just as proud to serve our small customers as our large ones and one of our smaller customers who keeps coming back for more corks is The Little Kit Company, which makes mini wine making kits (and they are really mini – one bottle at a time!).
Kirstyn Holgate came up with the idea and runs the business from north west England – the idea is that she supplies you with all the ingredients and equipment you need to make a single bottle of wine, then you just need to follow the instructions and wait for for 15 days and you have a bottle of red or white wine ready to drink. She came to us looking for a specific size agglomerated conical cork with a centre hole to fit the demijohn that is supplied as part of the wine making kit. To make sure that we would get exactly the right fit, she sent us over a sample bottle and we produced some sample corks for her to approve prior to placing a production order.
Anyway, The Little Kit Company is clearly going from strength to strength and if you fancy some small scale wine-making, you know were to go. And if you need a specific sized custom conical cork, then please get in touch with us at CorkLink and we will work with you to make sure you get the perfect cork for your requirements.
Not so long ago, all corks were what are now termed natural, that is punched out of the cork bark by a skilled worker with a punching machine and a lot of patience (see photo below). Sadly these natural corks are gradually being replaced by agglomerated corks, which are far easier to make and do not require anything like the skill levels to produce them. I was visiting one of our cork stopper suppliers today and it really struck home – lined up against one wall were several old punching machines, but they were gathering dust and had not been used for a long while. Next to them were the modern extrusion machines, pumping out long sticks of agglomerated cork to be chopped up into wine corks.
The amazing thing was that in a factory producing a few hundred thousand corks a day, there were just 2 guys working there. Their job was just to fill up the extrusion machines with cork granules, glue and paraffin and then to shift the corks round the factory from one machine to the next. This factory had not produced natural corks since 2010, because the wine makers understandably want to control their costs and will often go for the cheapest option available; a single agglomerate cork might cost say 4 cents, whereas a reasonable quality natural cork will cost over 10 cents.
The tragedy in this is not just the replacement of skilled workers by clunking machines, but also the replacement of something 100% natural, where every cork is different with its own grain and markings, to the bland conformity of agglomerated corks. The wine industry and wine consumers need to learn the value of natural cork in terms of its functionality, its natural beauty, but also the skill that goes into making them, which pays tribute to the skill of the winemaker whose product fills the bottle.
We receive a lot of questions about how cork stoppers should be stored once they have been received by clients. The most important thing is that once you have received your cork stoppers from your supplier, you should use them to bottle your wine or whatever within around 6 months. After this time the surface treatment (generally silicone or paraffin) that has been applied to the corks to lubricate them and allow them to slide into the bottle more easily will start to dry out and they will become more difficult to insert.
It goes without saying that corks should be stored in a dry and cool location to minimize the risk of mould or fungus affecting them – some bottlers like to have their corks supplied in sealed bags with an inert gas applied, but this is not strictly necessary as long as the corks are stored in appropriate conditions.
The 6 month rule for storing treated corks applies to all cork types: natural corks, agglomerated corks, 1+1 corks etc. If you are buying corks from a national distributor, rather than direct from Portugal then you need to be 100% sure about how long they have been sitting in a warehouse before they are delivered to you. Best of all of course, you should buy your corks direct from Portugal, straight from a cork supplier, where you can have corks produced to your exact specification and be completely confident that they are freshly treated.
Here at CorkLink of course we love natural cork – what is there not to like? It comes from sustainable forests where the trees are not cut down to harvest the cork bark, the product is beautiful in the way that only natural wood can be, it is the only way to allow wine to age in the bottle and it makes a fantastic sound when you pull it out!
Here is everything you need to know about why you should a natural cork supplier rather than going for a plain old screw cap:
Do yourself a favour and choose natural cork!
We supply natural cork balls in sizes of 8, 10, 16, 18, 20 and 25mm (and agglomerated cork balls in these sizes and larger). Natural cork balls are in fact very difficult to produce in high quality, as they need to be worked delicately and also need to be made from good quality natural cork in order to not have too many imperfections.
We are able to produce high quality natural cork balls in high enough quality to produce for example necklaces and other jewelry as well as a range of craft products, whistles and so on. We are also able to add a hole in the balls if required. We are able to supply from a minimum order of 100 upwards.
We have a new catalogue of cork leather bags and other cork leather products – you can download it here
You can download the cork leather bag price list here. Please enquire for wholesale prices.
There are not many industries that Portugal can claim to be the world leader in, but cork is one of them. In fact around 70% of the world’s cork is exported out of Portugal and for quality natural cork stoppers, the figure is over 95%. So if you are buying cork from within your own country, the chances are that it originally came from Portugal.
Southern Portugal has abundant cork oak forests, with 5.3 million acres in total (around 8% of the total land area of Portugal), giving an annual harvest of around 310,000 tonnes of cork. A number of national markets are dominated by local distributors who are typically buying their cork from Portugal, storing it and selling from stock. Here at CorkLink, we supply the end customers (be it the bottler, builder, furniture maker or whoever!) direct. This allows our customers to have more input into exactly what they buy, rather than having to buy stock items.
So for example when we have a new client interested in buying cork stoppers, particularly for bar-top corks, we generally ask for a sample of several of their bottles and we check the internal profile of the neck of the bottle, checking to see both consistency between bottles and also how the bore of the bottle changes along the length of the cork. This enables us to give a recommended cork size to within 0.2mm for the diameter of the cork. We can then also look at some different surface treatments that the corks may have, as well as branding on the corks and again in the case of bar-tops a huge variety of capsules (wood, metal, plastic, with a series of different surface treatments available).
Buying direct from Portugal will also help to keep your costs down as you are buying direct from source and another key advantage is that in the case of natural corks, you can be sure that they will have been sorted and graded correctly, whereas many distributors mix up the different grades of corks in order to pass off lower quality corks as premium.
So if you are looking for a cork supplier, then why not buy direct from Portugal. And if you are going to buy cork from Portugal, then you just need to speak to CorkLink!
It will come as no surprise that here are CorkLink we are passionate defenders of using cork to seal wine bottles – after that is a big part of how we make our living! I would like to have a look at some of the arguments that need to be considered when choosing between screw caps or corks.
Natural cork is used for around 70% of the 18bn wine bottles produced, with screw caps taking 11% and plastic corks 20%, whereas 10 years ago, cork was used for around 95% of wine bottles. The main reason for the increasing usage of screw caps is that they are cheap and that they do not suffer from cork taint (the nasty flavour that poorly produced corks can give to wine, via the chemical TCA). The truth is that well produced natural corks will have TCA problems with less than 0.2% of corks, following several years of heavy investment to resolve this problem, by improving the conditions that cork is weathered in and the various treatments given to the cork to get rid of anything nasty. It is fair to say that natural cork (when produced by a cork producer that has made the relevant investments) no longer presents a major threat to wine.
Screw caps on the other hand represent their own problems – by not allowing any oxygen at all to reach the wine, volatile compounds such as hydrogen sulphide and mercaptans which form naturally and sulfur dioxide and sulfites which are added to the wine as a preservative, can get trapped inside the bottle and worsen. This is the rotten-egg or boiled cabbage smell that you can get when you open a screw cap bottle of wine.
There is pretty much no dispute that for a wine that is going to age in the bottle, cork is the only serious option, as it allows just enough oxygen in to enable the ageing process to take place. But for wines that are not going to age further, several winemakers are now rejecting screw caps because of volatile compounds odour problem. So for example Adam Mason at South Africa’s Klein Constantia gave up on screw caps after 4 years, as did Christian Canute of Barossa’s Rusden Wines after 5 years of screw caps.
The technical arguments will continue about what kind of closure is best suited to a certain kind of wine. There is no doubt however that natural cork is still a signifier of quality in most consumers’ eyes. For the same reason that when you buy a smart dress in a fancy shop they give you a nice bag to stuff it in rather than a supermarket-style carrier bag, it makes sense for winemakers to present their wine in the best possible light. Wine is a magical product and deserves to be presented in the best possible light and cork still remains an important part of the magic!
We have a stock of 700 used wine casks/barrels 500 litres each in heights of 1.50m and 1.17m available for sale pictured below. Price is €85 each as is. Their condition is not perfect, although we can recondition for them for you if required. They were used for making Portuguese red wine.
Please contact Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.