The Prince of Wales has issued an attack on the environmental impact of using synthetic wine closures, boosting the cause of consumers and conservationists who have been fighting producers' increasing use of wine closures other than natural cork. The Prince's comments came as he accepted the 2002 Euronatur Award for his efforts to protect the environment.
In his speech, Prince Charles decried the use of "nasty plastic plugs" instead of natural, sustainable cork stoppers. Cork is the bark of the cork oak tree, the key component of the endangered dehasas ecosystems in Spain and Portugal. "Even something as apparently simple as the decision by some winemakers to use plastic stoppers instead of the traditional cork can have far-reaching impacts...Yet this growing practice is causing major changes in the dehesas of Spain and Portugal," commented the Prince.
Wine corks represent two-thirds of the $1.3 billion (€1.4m) cork industry, and environmentalists fear that cork's declining share of the wine stopper market will render these forests unprofitable and subject to destruction. Contrary to public perception, cork oak trees are not destroyed when their bark is harvested. Uniquely, they are the only tree able to regenerate its bark, which is stripped from the tree every nine years. Cork oaks live for centuries and survive without the use of chemical herbicides, fertilisers or irrigation.
The Prince's remarks support a pronounced consumer preference for natural wine corks. A recent, independent poll of wine drinkers in the US, Australia and the UK, conducted on behalf of the Portuguese Cork Association, found that 75 per cent of those surveyed - and 81 per cent of Americans - strongly preferred natural cork to any other wine closure. Most surprising, the survey showed that the choice of wine closure was a more influential factor in a wine purchase decision than origin, price or label information.
Cork producers are now hoping that the Prince's comments will help turn the tide for an industry that has been hard hit by the impact of plastic corks in recent years.