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A "Gourd"geous Water Bottle, and More from My "Cork Series" UPDATED

Posted Apr 10 2013 6:59am
So, I'm out there on my garden path, about to put a base coat of paint on the bottle-neck gourds I grew on my refugee-inspired locally-harvested bamboo trellis system last summer (jeez, I'm becoming a caricature of myself). The late-day sun is streaming across the turtle-shell-like gourds, which I was hesitating to paint as they are so beautiful, but I see bright painted-flower birdhouses dangling from my trees (as opposed to the year I made these ) in my imagination.  

I get to thinking about that Dom Perignon story, when two Spanish monks on their way to Sweden stopped at his abbey (where he was a French Benedictine monk) right about when he invented Champagne (we're talking 400 years ago here). He asked about the stoppers stuffed in their water gourds, and they told him about the bark of a type of tree in Catalonia. Dom gets the idea to use this material for his Champagne, and thus, commercially-available cork stoppers enter the marketplace.

Apparently, this story is false (or so it says in a book named To Cork or Not to Cork, which I ordered and am still awaiting), but the curiosity was too much for me. So out came the saw, off went the top of a gourd, hammered went the rebar to break the membrane to the open cavity beneath, and in went the cork (from one of Bonterra's red wines--I am still awaiting a reply re: the white wine screw top ).  I am pretty darn proud of this accomplishment! Now, of course, I wonder if I could actually use this as a water bottle--how cool would this be at a meeting?

You know when you learn a new word and it's suddenly everywhere? That's what cork is like to me right now. The current issue of Atlanta magazine has a nice little fashion photo spread that includes this cork clutch, for instance. In my pretty much non-stop reading about cork lately, I also discovered the insides on shuttlecocks are made of cork (when's the last time you gave a moment's thought to shuttlecocks?), and I find myself eyeing the basically-abandoned badminton nets on people's lawns when out and about (you hardly ever see children playing outside anymore). Now, if a massive badminton trend could sweep the world, perhaps we could save those cork forests without worrying about the screw top wine stopper takeover.

Speaking of screw tops, they do have a little plastic liner, you know. And, although they are recyclable, there seems to be lots of mixed information concerning whether they are actually being recycled, and if systems can handle them. 

Lest you think I'm becoming a shill for natural cork, I'm not completely sold on it, yet. Natural cork's weak spot, to be honest, seems to be water use--it apparently takes gobs of water to clean and process the natural material into corks, and in a severely water-threatened world, this is definitely an issue. 

The synthetic corks seem to be the weakest link in the "wine stop closure alternatives" marketplace, I think, as they are simply not flexible enough to remove easily and recork bottles after opening. Plus, they are petroleum-based. Yuck. 

The cork granule stoppers, albeit mostly natural, are made from bits of cork held together by solvents. Solvents! Um, no thanks. But there is no way to know, as a consumer, what you're getting in your bottle currently. I predict that, at the end of what's clearly becoming my "cork series," I am going to take the position I have on just about every other consumer product-- transparent labeling and easily-accessible accurate details so that I can make informed decisions when I vote with my dollars. 

I have a number of requests for interviews out there right now, and I intend to learn every last thing I can before my trip to the cork oak forests in Portugal in June. And then, I'm going to simply immerse myself--in the forests, in the factories, and with the people. I will bear witness. And then I will write about it, here on our FoodShed Planet and elsewhere.

Follow along with me, and let's learn together. Here is the rest of my "cork series" to date:

"Bark to Bottle" (and How Cork Forests are Getting Screwed)
A Turning Point in History for Cork Oak Forests--and I Will Bear Witness

"Dognitive" Dissonance

UPDATE: I just confirmed that my county, DeKalb County (Georgia), does NOT recycle screw caps.
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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