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Issue 30 - Uncorking a debate

Whisky Magazine Issue 30
April 2003


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Uncorking a debate

‘To cork, or not to cork', that is the question, as Federico Valori explains

Travelling south from Lisbon towards the Odemira district in the Baixo Alentejo region of Portugal, I am eagerly on the lookout for the first sight of a cork tree. It will not be long before cork oak forests stretch as far as the eye can see. Solemnly imposing, having crowned these hills and mountains for centuries, they convey a reassuring sense of continuity, stability and tradition.

My original interest in the cork tree is admittedly related to the great cork debate that in the past few years has filled pages of the British press, demanding better quality stoppers and blaming cork for millions of bottles ruined each year in Britain alone.

To cork or not to cork? This seems to be the question – or in fact, choice – for the wine industry. Now, and for the first time in its history, the cork industry is faced with serious competition from alternative wine closure solutions. Whisky distilleries also have to choose between screwcaps and cork stoppers, but their criteria and concerns are different, and the resulting impact on the cork industry is less significant.

Given the increasing market share gained by plastic stoppers and screwcaps – driven by an aggressive global marketing campaign and openly supported by most supermarkets, which in the UK account for 75 per cent of wine imports – the threat to the cork industry is a serious one. Having enjoyed the enviable position of being the sole supplier of the only viable closure solution to wine producers for centuries,...

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