Drop in cork demand could endanger Mediterranean forests

What wine goes best with endangered forest? Perhaps a nice pinot gris? Mediterranean cork-oak forests provide 15 billion cork stoppers a year to the wine industry — a sustainable enterprise, as cork is harvested from live trees rather than dead ones — but plastic and screw-top closures are growing in popularity. A drop in the cork market could lead to poor forest management or abandonment, putting forests at heightened risk of desertification and forest fires, says WWF. The group is urging the wine industry to stick with cork, warning that otherwise three-quarters of the forests could be lost within 10 years. Cork harvesting supports tens of thousands of jobs, and cork forests support wildlife including the Iberian lynx, Barbary deer, and Imperial Iberian eagle. Synthetic closures currently hold 20 percent of the wine-stopper market, but WWF worries that figure could leap to 95 percent by 2015.