My research to date indicates that we are going to be in Porto on the night of the annual St. John the Baptist Festival, which is supposedly the biggest festival of the year, punctuated by revelry, street bonfires and even, if I read this right, people running around hitting each other over the head with leeks. When I told my husband this, he replied, "That sounds perfect for you!"I want to fully understand what happens to communities when I buy a bottle of wine with a natural cork stopper (such as this one from one of my heroes, Paul Dolan). I have requested to meet some women and children in the communities to more fully see the economic impact of the downstream flow of my 28-cents. I have much research to do on this issue still, but I think it's at the heart of things when trying to decide how to vote with my dollars. Maybe that's a female perspective, but considering that the majority of wine in the United States is purchased by women (and women, in fact, make more than 80% of all consumer purchase decisions**), I think it's where the rubber (or, rather, cork) hits the road.
So, we'll tour the forests and the entire manufacturing process. I have been told we have complete access, including, of course, all editorial freedom afterwards. I am researching like mad and trying to determine the areas in which I am particularly interested in learning more (although, of course, I just have to wait and see on some angles of the story as they will become clear to me when I am actually there). Here are some topics in which I am specifically interested:
1. Economic Impact on Communities
2. On-Farm Creativity, Diversity, and Job Creation
Portugal has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. This can't be good. Plus, the cost of cork is dropping so much that it is starting to become economically unviable to harvest it as the cost to harvest is equal or higher than the cost it will bring at market. This therefore increases pressures to sell or develop the land in non-agricultural ways, thereby essentially losing the cork forests forever. Some folks are holding on in all ways possible--"finishing off" pigs, for instance, as Spanish farmers send their pigs to Portugal for their final fattening on dropped cork oak acorns, to be then processed into "jamon iberico" and other meat products. Farmers are also diversifying into wine, olives, olive oil, honey, and agritourism (at least according to this article ). I have many questions about all of this, and hope to see examples of each.
3. Laboratory Research, Development, and Quality Control
I'm also intrigued by the increases in research, development, and quality control that have significantly improved the performance of natural cork wine stoppers, and I'm hoping to meet the scientists and engineers working to address head-on the major threat to the cork stopper market--a perceived lack of perfection. One article I read indicated that if the current trajectory of growth for the screw top and synthetic stopper market continues, less than 50% of bottles will have natural cork by 2015 (take a look around at stores near you--you will be shocked at how many screw tops there are now, such as seen in the photo above which I took yesterday at Whole Foods). That sounds to me like the point of no return, as once these forests are cut down, they are gone. We as a society let this happen with record stores and independent book stores (see my post about that here ). But the stakes are higher here. We're talking total ecosystem eradication, which, by the way, reduces the ability of future generations to utilize the species diversity of cork forests in unforeseen ways ( including medicinally).
As Norman Vincent Peale said, "Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution." I am still learning about the problems. I am just starting to imagine the solutions. And I am looking forward to seeing for myself what's really happening, what's actually possible, and what small role I may be able to play in bearing witness to a turning point in history for the global asset of cork forests on our shared FoodShed Planet***.
And possibly determining that, frankly, it's just not worth it and the screw top and synthetic folks are onto something.
* See my previous post, Bark to Bottle (or How Cork Forests Are Getting Screwed)
** By the way, only 3% of all advertising agency creative directors are women--my very dear friend Kat Gordon is doing a bang-up job helping companies increase their impact with the key purchasing decision makers by including more female voices in the creative process--see here .
*** I'm also looking for some specific assignments from national media organizations regarding these issues and this trip. Please cont act me if you think there is a fit and we can work together.
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world