Although the cork closure is an everyday item, particularly in the wine industry, this has not always been the case. Despite its inherent properties which lend it numerous qualities, the cork closure has not always been the preferred solution for vessels containing wine. We take a look back over the origins of the cork closure.
The origins of the cork closure
The cork closure originally emerged in Antiquity when it was used to provide a water-tight stopper for Greek and Roman amphorae. This is because the prime characteristic unique to cork – its pliability – had already been identified.
The development of wooden barrels to the detriment of other storage and transport containers led to a decline in the usage of cork closures for a few centuries.
Cork oaks were already widespread in Portugal, where laws had even been introduced in the 13th century to protect the country’s forests.
After being forgotten for a while, cork closures re-emerged with the spread of glass. Terracotta pitchers were gradually replaced by glass bottles for serving and increasingly storage purposes.
In France, cork closures made a major comeback in the 17th century due to monk Dom Pierre Pérignon who decided to use a cone-shaped cork to close bottles of Champagne.
As the regularity of glass bottles improved through industrialisation of the manufacturing process, the use of cork stoppers entered the mainstream. A machine for producing them was even patented in England in the 19th century. In the meantime, use of cork closures made from two pieces of glued cork was spreading in France.
By the 20th century, the cylindrical cork closure familiar to us today became the norm. Manufacturers supply a variety of sizes to suit the specific needs of each wine.
Why cork though?
Initially used for its impermeability to liquid and its elasticity, cork is now also valued for other reasons.
Cork gradually allows minute amounts of air to seep through, allowing wine to mature better by developing multiple aromas.
Also, cork is a material that is environmentally-friendly. It is sustainable because the cork oak does not need to be felled to extract its unique bark – cork. The other interesting aspect of the process is that to produce cork, the oak tree needs to absorb CO2 through photosynthesis, making the cork closure a clean solution throughout its lifecycle.
Throughout its history, the cork closure has successfully taken advantage of its intrinsic properties. To this day, it is still the solution preferred by winegrowers and winemakers. This is because it has the unique ability to let the wine breathe yet ensures the container remains tightly sealed. Also, the cork closure’s environmental credentials are an advantage for industry members keen to produce wine sustainably.