Myth or Fact: Is There a Shortage of Cork? - Texas Cork Company

Myth or Fact: Is There a Shortage of Cork?

In the world of sustainable materials and eco-friendly living, cork has established itself as a staple - renowned for its versatility, durability, unique natural look and renewability (for more details check out our blog post on the Marvels of Cork). However, recent news stories about a possible shortage of cork have left consumers questioning the status of this material. This blog post aims to shed additional light on whether the purported cork shortage is a myth or a genuine concern. Along the way, we'll explore the dynamics of premium wine corks, the specter of cork taint, the fierce competition for cork, the myriad uses of this remarkable material, and its enduring sustainability.

The Cork Dilemma Unveiled

Before delving into the nuances of the supposed cork shortage, it's important to first have a solid understanding of why cork is so desirable. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber), which is native only to the Mediterranean region. Even with this relatively small native range, cork has been a reliable and sustainable resource around the world for thousands of years. In fact, cork bottle stoppers have been found in Roman shipwrecks dating as far back as the 5th century BC. However, whispers of scarcity have cast a shadow on its availability, particularly in the context of wine corks.

A Shift in the Wine Industry

At the heart of this matter ultimately lies the heightened demand for premium wine corks. It is broadly accepted in the wine industry that premium solid cork stoppers are the best choice when it comes to the interplay between the wine and stopper and how this influences wine aging and the qualities of the wine. However, I am sure you have noticed that more wines are being sealed with alternative stoppers such as agglomerated cork stoppers (which are generally still considered preferable to a non-cork stopper), synthetic closures or aluminum screw caps. 

The appetite for wine is growing rapidly across the globe. In 2021 the global wine market was valued at $340 billion and that is expected to grow to $456 billion by 2028. Millenials continue to become a growing percentage of consumers, and they continue to show strong preferences for high-quality products, especially wines. As such, wineries find themselves in stiff competition for access to the finest cork. This competition has spurred rumors of a shortage, fueled by concerns about the supply chain's ability to meet the escalating demand.

Cork Taint: A Lingering Menace

Amidst the discussions of competition for cork, we can't forget the "dirty word" in the wine industry - cork taint. Cork taint is a phenomenon where undesirable compounds, especially TCA, infiltrate the wine due to a contaminated cork. While TCA is not unsafe to drink, it does give wine an unpleasant musty taste and odor that some describe as wet cardboard, meaning the wine is undrinkable. Even a single bottle of tainted wine can significantly damage a winery's reputation.

Since the compounds that cause cork taint are released by cork trees during periods of stress, there are a wide variety of environmental factors that can cause cork to become contaminated. Unfortunately, this makes cork taint an incredibly difficult problem to tackle. While there is one company with a patented method that claims to be able to remove compounds like TCA from cork, this is costly. However, alternative closures such as aluminum screw caps and synthetic corks offer wineries solutions that are not only more cost effective even than natural cork, but also are not susceptible to risks such as cork taint. Further, while natural cork undoubtedly makes the best true seal and is certainly the optimal closure for wines intended to be aged, alternative closures also carry advantages, especially for still or semi-sparkling wines intended to be consumed relatively soon after bottling.

So at this point we've established that there is rapidly growing demand for premium wine corks, and that it is critically important in the wine industry that this cork be free of contaminants. Now, let's take a look beyond the wine industry.

The Versatility of Cork

Beyond Bottles: The Wide Variety of Uses for Cork

To comprehend the true scope of the cork shortage debate, it's crucial to appreciate the versatility of cork. While most commonly associated with wine stoppers, cork's applications extend far beyond the confines of a bottle. From fashion accessories and home décor to flooring and insulation, cork has proven itself to be a material of choice for those seeking sustainable alternatives in just about every industry. In fact, as I discussed in a previous blog post about cork fabric, some vehicle manufacturers are even beginning to use cork for the interiors of new cars.

Cork Taint in Other Industries 

As people globally become increasingly interested in being good stewards of our planet, the desire for eco-friendly product alternatives is on the rise. As such, the demand for cork outside of the wine industry is also increasing. However, there is a key difference between the wine industry (or really food and beverages more broadly since wine is not the only bottle that gets stoppered with cork!) and just about any other industry - the concern over cork taint. The taste and odor caused by compounds such as TCA are not noticeable until the cork interacts with compounds in wine. Therefore, if a cork fabric manufacturer (or insulation, decor, flooring, etc.) is looking to buy slabs of raw cork bark, they are not nearly as concerned about whether the cork is "contaminated" as a manufacturer of bottle stoppers. This has created additional competition for the raw materials that threatens the supply chain of industries like wine that require "pure" cork.

As you might imagine, this contributes to a higher cost of premium natural cork stoppers, thus further incentivizing wineries to consider alternative closures. As you might also imagine, some bottle stopper manufacturers and/or wineries might prefer to frame this issue as a shortage or a reduced ability to get premium cork rather than being fully transparent about the fact that the material is simply more expensive now than it used to be.

Debunking the Myth or Validating the Concern

Ultimately the question around whether or not there is a cork shortage comes down to the age old balance between supply and demand. According to multiple sources, including one of the largest cork suppliers in the world Amorim Cork, there is currently sufficient cork on the planet to supply stoppers for all of the world's wine for the next 100 years. However, as we've just discussed, while most of the world's cork does still go to making bottle stoppers, the demand for cork in other industries is growing. So it is theoretically possible that demand could outpace supply at some point. 

Satisfying Demand by Increasing Supply 

Thankfully, large companies like Amorim, governments in the Mediterranean, and even small businesses like us are proactively taking steps to hopefully increase the supply of raw cork before demand exceeds the current supply. New methods for cultivating cork oak trees are being explored both in their native region as well as right here in central Texas. Just in the last two years we have planted over 100 cork oak trees, and we intend to continue. The CEO of Texas Cork Company, Breanne Harty, has a PhD in genetics and an extensive background in scientific research. She hopes to better understand the optimal growing conditions for cork oak trees so that they can be cultivated more broadly outside of the Mediterranean.

Keeping Existing Cork in the Supply Chain

Another added benefit of cork is that it is an easily recyclable material. In fact, many other types of products can be made with the waste that is left from producing premium wine corks. Even used wine corks (and many other cork products) can be ground up and made into something new. Granulated cork can even be combined with other recycled materials to make new and interesting aggregates, such as those used to make our Beach Clean placemats. Unfortunately, of the 15 billion (yes, with a B!) cork bottle stoppers sent into the world each year, the vast majority of them end up in landfills. 

To help divert some of this unnecessary waste, we have recently partnered with a new nonprofit organization here in Texas called Empty Harvest, which aims to divert recyclable materials commonly found in wineries such as glass, cardboard and cork away from landfills in the Texas hill country. Texas Cork Company will be the end user for the majority of the cork they collect, and we will upcycle it into a variety of new products! We also offer individuals the opportunity to participate in our cork recycling program, which exchanges a discount on our products for turning in their used corks. 

Thankfully, we are not alone in these efforts either. There are examples popping up in cities all over the world of companies, nonprofit organizations, and even local governments implementing cork recycling programs. ReCORK is currently North America's largest cork recycling company. They collect wine corks and create new products such as shoe soles, thus lengthening the lifecycle of the initial cork material that created the wine stoppers.


In conclusion, answering the question of whether there is a shortage of cork is nuanced and multifaceted. As consumers and industry players navigate this landscape, understanding the dynamics of the cork industry is crucial. While the heightened demand for premium wine corks and the specter of cork taint add layers of complexity, the wide variety of uses for cork and its enduring sustainability paint a picture of resilience. While we have found no evidence that there is truly a current shortage of cork, there is a possibility that there could be a shortage eventually if demand continues to increase at its current pace. Therefore, the commitment to sustainable practices and responsible consumption will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping the future of this remarkable and eco-conscious material.

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