Someone at Reuters has a sense of humor. The Web url for this story, about how plastic corks and metal screw-tops are "dooming the world's cork forests," is slugged "latest crisis." I assume that was written tongue in cheek, but the rest of the story has a pretty serious tone. It quotes friends of the cork industry complaining about how plastic and metal wine closures, which now claim 20 percent of the market, up from 2 percent in 2000, are threatening cork oak forests in places like Sardinia. Does that make sense? How would using a material other than cork endanger a forest of cork oak trees? The story explains: First, when cork is harvested, the trees are not chopped down -- instead, it is shaved off the sides of trees, "like the way a sheep is shorn." Second, if cork continues to lose market share, cork tree growers might have to plant other trees instead, like eucalyptus. And that would threaten species that currently live in the cork forests, like wild boar, deer, and lynx. Cork producers are taking the competitive threat seriously:
Aiming to cash in on the demand for 'green' products, they have started to produce corks certified 'environmentally friendly' under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) scheme, an 'eco-label' system already widespread for timber products. Backers of the FSC scheme hope 'green' wine buyers will prefer a bottle with the FSC label. Cork makers hope it can guarantee their future by differentiating their traditional product from the upstarts.The main reason "synthetic" cork has caught on so quickly is because of contamination problems from the "authentic" stoppers. No one wants to buy a nice bottle of wine and discover it was ruined by a bad cork. Will an eco-label be enough to reverse that trend? It might slow the growth of synthetic corks, but I doubt it.