If you are a lover of wine, then you have most certainly opened beautiful bottles with stoppers made from the bark of Portuguese cork oak trees. In fact, at least half of the world’s oak cork trees are grown in the Alentejo region, and impressively live up to 400 years.
Cork oak trees, like many of the world’s most renowned grape vines, grow great in warm, dry Mediterranean climates. Although most cork that is harvested is used for sealing wine, due to its inherent resistance to liquid, it is also used for shoes, purses, flooring, yoga mats, and insulation.
Livestock in the cork forest at Herdade do Passareiro.
Curious to learn more, I was fortunate to interview Andreia Sousa, of Herdade do Passareiro, a 570-acre cork farm in Alentejo. Andreia’s passion and pride exuded from her voice as she shared about her love for agriculture and career working with the land, “I was born like this. My heart was born in farming. My heart was born connected to wildlife and plants life cycles. People call it farming but really, it is everything.”
Beyond the various usages of cork, the beauty of the bark is that the trees are not cut-down when being harvested. In addition, the trees can only be harvested every 10 years, due to the fact that the cork-bark takes a decade to regrow. The duration of growth time is important for the sustainability and biodiversity of the forest, which is home to the indigenous Iberian Lynx, eagle, fox and white stork. In regards to the skilled manual workers who harvest the cork, Andreia made sure to acknowledge them for being, “Real artists.”
Cork bark mid-harvest at Herdade do Passareiro.
As cork oak trees can live up to 400 years, their life span stretches over multiple generations of families and farmers. Because of this, Andreia worries that we will not be able to understand how climate change is affecting these trees, until it is too late. Although cork oak thrive with less water than most trees, they are getting less with global warming than they did 100 years ago. Some farmers have adapted and implemented irrigation systems, but it is still certain that these trees are under more stress than they used to be.
Want to do your part in preserving these incredible forests: Drink wine with natural cork stoppers!