One decade ago, 99 percent of all wine bottles were sealed with natural corks.
But because around 8 percent of all wines were “corked” — that is, ruined by air seeping into the bottle and hastening the wine’s aging process, turning some into vinegar — vintners began seeking alternate closures.
Today, synthetic corks make up 45 percent of the bottle seal market, while screw tops (a.k.a. screw caps) account for 15 percent. Only 40 percent of wine bottles now are “finished” with traditional corks.
What wasn’t known during this decade of change was what impact, if any, the move away from traditional corks was having on the environment. Now, thanks to a study conducted by Oeneo Bouchage, a French closure company, we know:
* Screw top closures produce 9.5 pounds of carbon per ton.
* Natural corks produce 5.5 pounds of carbon per ton.
* Many of the world’s oldest cork groves may be in jeopardy because falling demand could force cork growers to abandon their groves to development.
* If cork groves disappear or lose significant acreage, among the animals that could be put at risk are the Iberian lynx, Spanish imperial eagle, Barbary dear, booted eagle, black vulture and turtle dove.
Even noble causes — such as assuring the consistent quality of wine — can have unintended negative consequences.