by Jill Barth

USA TODAY 10Best

How cork gets from a tree to your wine bottle

The cork wine stopper is synonymous with preservation – not only of the wine in the bottle, but of a way of life for cork farmers and the natural ecosystem of the forest.

The process has been the same for generations.

It’s a system that benefits the local economy, the environment and the industries that utilize cork – particularly the wine industry.

Cork grows naturally in only two areas of the world.

The Mediterranean region of Europe – mostly in the Iberian Peninsula, which produces more than 80% of the world's cork – and Northwest Africa.

Los Alcornocales Natural Park (a name that literally means "the cork oak grove") is the largest mass of cork oak on the Iberian Peninsula.

Cork harvest isn't typical of forestry, because the tree itself isn't cut down.

Trees are not harmed thanks to the cork oak's unique ability to regenerate outer bark (the layer we know as cork) and the mastery of the farmers.

From May to August, teams of extractors – skilled workers with years of experience and a generational connection to the forest – set out with a sharp ax.

The extractor makes a horizontal slice and several vertical slices in an instinctive way.

Trees yielding cork for wine stoppers must be at least 40 years old for their virgin harvest.

"A single cork oak, which lives up to 200 years, can be harvested over 16 times."

— Rainforest Alliance

According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, each tree can produce enough material for 4,000 wine corks in one harvest.

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