Where does cork come from

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cork tree
This photo shows two men harvesting the bark from a Cork Oak tree.
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Cork has been used to preserve bottles of wine for hundreds of years

Have you ever opened a celebratory bottle of champagne, sent the cork whizzing across the room with a gratifying pop, and paused to wonder exactly where that cork originated, or how on earth it got wedged into the bottle so perfectly?  Where does cork come from?  Most people would be surprised to learn that cork is actually the bark of a living tree, the Cork Oak Tree.

Where does cork come from?  The corks you find sealing up bottles of champagne and wine come from the bark of Cork Oak trees grown in the forests of the Mediterranean.  The countries that produce the majority of the world’s cork are, in order of production percentage; Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia.  

Where does cork come from?  It comes from the bark of the Cork Oak tree.  The Cork Oak is actually related to the American Oak and Chestnut tree, and produces acorns similar to the nuts produced by these trees however, as a result of climate and conditions, the Cork Oak developed a very different type of bark.

Cork Oak bark is remarkably unique because it is much thicker than the bark of any other trees.  This is due to the fact that Cork Oak trees evolved to endure the harsh conditions of Mediterranean forests, including droughts, brush fires and extreme temperature fluctuations. 

Cork Oak bark contains a waxy substance called suberin that prevents gases and liquids from passing through the wood.  This unique quality of the bark enabled Cork Oak trees to survive fire and rot, while preserving vital water during times of drought.

The bark of the trunks and lower branches of the Cork Oaks is harvested using cutting tools that peel off large sections of the outer bark without killing or permanently damaging the tree.  The bark takes roughly 7-10 years to grow back to a thickness that can once again be harvested.  Cork trees are not harvested for their bark until they are at least 25 years old.

Once the strips of Cork Oak bark are harvested, they are washed and boiled, a process that makes the cork more pliable and easier to work with.  Bottle stoppers are punched directly from these strips of bark, and shipped directly to vineyards and bottling companies around the world. 

Left over cork oak bark is ground up and molded into a wide variety of other cork products such as cork flooring, cork boards, even cork figurines popular in decorative items such as nativity sets. 

The corks found in wine or champagne bottles have been softened, or heated to fit into the neck of a bottle.  Because cork is made up of millions of tiny air cells, it can easily be softened and compressed to fit tightly into a bottle.  Once it cools, the cork swells to seal the opening, locking out both air and moisture. 

The next time you pop open a champagne bottle, be sure to raise the question, where does cork come from?  See if your friends and family are aware that cork, originating from living trees, has been used to preserve wines and bottled beverages for over 500 years. 

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