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.
So should you choose agglomerated or natural corks for your stoppers? Assuming that you are not going to use a synthetic option (screw tops or worse still a plastic cork imitation), what are the different characteristics of agglomerated and natural corks?
Within the agglomerated cork bracket, you can opt for micro-agglomerated (with 0.5 to 2.0mm granule size) which have the advantage that they are stronger and harder wearing that standard agglomerated corks and then you can choose between extruded and moulded agglomerated corks. Extruded agglomerated corks are the cheapest cork option and the reason is because they are not very strong, so more likely to break when uncorking a bottle and giving a less reliable seal to the bottle. Moulded corks (which are always micro-agglomerated) are a much higher quality option and are becoming increasingly common in the industry now, because they are much stronger and their reliability/consistency is much better than extruded corks, but they are twice the price of extruded corks.
Increasingly moulded agglomerated corks are taking market share from natural corks and the simple reason is price. Natural corks are extremely complex to produce given the fact that they have to be produced from uneven cork bark and then selected and divided by quality (and then selected and divided again after treatment) and are less easy to sterilize than agglomerated corks. This makes good quality natural corks expensive and there is no point pretending otherwise, but is the extra money worth it?
There are three great advantages to natural cork:
- its natural porosity will allow a wine to age in a bottle that an agglomerated cork would not
- agglomerated corks contain synthetic binding agents, which although food-safe are not ideal to be in contact with the delicate flavours that many drinks have
- natural cork looks beautiful and organic, whereas agglomerated cork is uniform and looks semi-synthetic
So natural cork is the best closure for high quality wines and spirits and confers a feel of quality and a nature to drinks that are bottled with it. You can look at natural cork as steak compared to agglomerated cork as burger meat – they both have their place in the food market, but when choosing between natural and agglomerated you need to decide if you are selling fast food or fine dining…….