Most people are too anxious to pour the sweet liquor in their glasses and taste its flavours, than to stop and think about the first thing you find when opening a bottle of wine…
A small spongy-like piece of wood that serves as a seal and keeps the wine fresh. But the cork is much more than that, it has a story behind it and a long-standing origin. In the scorching land of Alentejo, Portugal, there are hectare of cork trees growing freely under the burning sun. And each summer, during the hottest days of the months of June, July and August, there are specialised workers who gather in the cork farms to cut the bark off the trees. The process lasts around 15 days and it must be done meticulously as the cork tree is a fragile creature. The first cut is the most important one, because it may damage the tree forever, and so only the most skilled men can do the job. After taking the bark of each tree, they are marked with numbers representing the year in which they have been ‘debarked’. This happens so that farmers know that the tree needs a period of rest now. And this period is not short at all. It takes a cork tree 10 years to grow its bark again, and even so, there are poachers that prevent this by stealing it before the time.
In the end of the process, the bark is piled up and left to dry for another 20 days, in which time the farmer goes about his usual business. The neatly cut barks are ready now to go to factories which will transform the raw material in different corks for champagne, wine or different objects, depending on the quality of the cork, its shape and thickness.
So, the next time you open a bottle of wine, stop a moment and think about the little piece of wood you hold between your fingers. It took 10 years to grow, one day to be cut and sold. For you to consume the wine. Fresh out of the bottle.
And if you ever have the time, go on a wonderful adventure to Alentejo to see the amazing cork plantations.
And who knows? Perhaps you will start your quest to save Miguel as well
Text by Ioana Bota