The debate between those who prefer natural corks and those who believe that corks made from synthetic materials can help prevent the off flavors and general undrinkablility of wines affected by cork taint is wrapping up.

The winner? Neither. The lowly screw top, once reserved for the likes of Night Train, has increasingly been adopted by innovative wineries like Bonny Doon.

But in the January/February issue of Audubon magazine, Susan McGrath argues that the popularity of screw tops and synthetic corks is threatening an ecosystem that shelters an amazing amount of biodiversity.

In Portugal, the low-impact harvesting of cork has been going on for centuries in a pastoral area that also houses wildlife (like eagles and lynx) and domestic animals. But the beauty of the area is also drawing developers, who might find it easier to push out farmers if cork becomes unprofitable.

The article quotes Domingos Leitão, a Portuguese ornithologist:

The irony is great, Leitão muses. The world is becoming more aware of the shortcomings of intensive agriculture. Sustainable products are gaining space in the pantry. People have a more sophisticated understanding of biological diversity’s importance. The wineries themselves are reducing their water and herbicide use. ‘And yet wine drinkers are switching to synthetic stoppers—petroleum products—with barely a fuss.’

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