Getting into the spirit of Christmas,
Ireland’s biggest selling newspaper, the Sunday
Independent, ran an article in its last issue that will be welcomed by all in
the Algarve and the rest of
the Iberian Peninsula who side with corks in
the War of the Stoppers.
The article was a timely reminder that market forces controlling how wine bottles are capped are still rampant and working against corks. Despite a reported cork resurgence in recent years, screw caps and plastic stoppers favoured by
World wine producers have captured at least 20% of the market.
The Sunday Independent quoted the World Wildlife Fund in reporting that an estimated three-quarters of the western
cork oak forests could be lost within 10 years. The plastic and screw top
momentum could take up to 80% of the wine bottle market well before that.
While doing what it can to help, the WWF continues to express serious concern about a possible disastrous scenario. “Cork forests – home to endangered species such as the Iberian lynx and Iberian imperial eagle – have been protected and valued due to the centuries-old demand for cork in the wine industry. But the increasingly popular use of alternative stoppers threatens this environmentally and economically sustainable industry and leaves cork forests unprotected.”
The harvesting of cork oak, with the bark totally renewing itself after each nine-year harvest, offers one of the finest examples of traditional, sustainable land use. Cork oak woodlands provide a livelihood for 10,000 people in southern
and many thousands more in southern Spain
and parts of France, Italy
Algeria, Tunisia and . It is
not only these livelihoods that are in danger if the demand for cork dwindles
as feared. Morocco
The worry is that market forces may lead to the woodlands being felled to make way for other cash crops. “Cork oak forests also play a key role in maintaining watersheds, preventing erosion and keeping soils healthy, says the World Wildlife Fund. “They are a great example of balanced conservation and economic development. Their preservation is vital for the well-being of the Mediterranean region.”
If they are not preserved, climate change and erosion could bring about desertification. If that happened, the natural undergrowth, wild animals and birds the oak woodlands now support would be displaced or driven to extinction. Livestock, such as black pigs free-ranging on acorns, would no longer have their traditional pastures.
There are pros as well as cons for the synthetic alternatives, but while the War of the Stoppers rages on, the writer of the Sunday Independent article last weekend urged readers to continue to pop corks by saying: “This simple choice is a small but positive gesture towards those Portuguese and Spanish farmers hanging in there. Raise a glass or two to them. I will join you. (O mesmo por favor!) Fill 'em up again, lads.”