Cork bark can be found on almost every tree, but the cork oak (Quercus suber) is the principal source of most cork items, including wine bottle stoppers. These trees are mostly found around the Mediterranean Sea’s shore, where there is abundance of sunshine, low rainfall, and high humidity. Portugal, Algeria, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy, and Tunisia are the countries that produce the most cork.
So, why does the cork oak’s cork bark layer appear to be thicker than that of other trees? The tree evolved to protect itself from the harsh circumstances seen in Mediterranean woodland ecosystems. Droughts, brush fires, and temperature swings are common in these woods. Cork is composed up of water-resistant cells that separate the tough outer bark from the soft inner bark. It has a set of qualities that no other naturally occurring substance has. It’s light, resistant to rot, fire, and termites, impermeable to gas and liquid, and soft and buoyant. It’s because of these characteristics that it’s perfect for halting wine bottles and tile flooring. Let’s look at how cork is harvested from trees and turned into consumer goods.
Taking off the bark — Before the bark of a cork oak can be harvested, it must be at least 25 years old. The tree’s cork can then be stripped every 8 to 14 years for the rest of its life. During the months of June, July, and August, the cork is removed from the tree by cutting pieces out of the bark using a long-handled hatchet. After that, the tree’s pieces are wrenched away. Workers must avoid damaging the inner layer of the bark; otherwise, the bark will not regrow.
Washing the cork — The rough outer layer of the bark is taken away from the cork slabs that have been cut away from the tree. In addition to softening the cork, boiling it softens it, making it easier to work with.
Punching Bottle Stoppers — Bottle stoppers are made by punching holes in cork slabs. As a result, the slabs are riddled with holes. After that, the bottle stoppers are sorted and delivered to various locations. Names or logos can be printed or branded on the stoppers at this point.
Scrap Cork’s Uses — There is some cork scrap left over after the bottle stoppers have been punched out of the cork slabs. Other cork products, such as cork tile flooring and cork message boards, are made from this debris, which is broken up, shaped into huge blocks, and baked in ovens.
For over 400 years, cork has been employed as a bottle stopper. Because it includes a natural waxy component called suberin, it is arguably the ideal material for use as a bottle stopper. This chemical keeps cork from deteriorating by making it impervious to liquids and gases.