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The Origins and history of Cork and Cork Leather

Cork has been used for over 5,000 years as a way of sealing containers. An amphora, discovered at Ephesus and dating from the first century B.C.E. was so effectively sealed with a cork stopper that it still contained wine. The ancient Greeks used it to make sandals and the ancient Chinese and Babylonians used it in fishing tackle. Portugal passed laws to protect its cork forests as early as 1209 but it wasn’t until the 18th century that cork production began on a large commercial scale. The expansion of the wine industry from this point on sustained a demand for cork stoppers that persisted until the late 20th century. Australian wine producers, unhappy with the quantity of ‘corked’ wine they were experiencing and suspicious that they were being given inferior quality cork in a deliberate attempt to slow the influx of New World wine, started using synthetic corks and screw caps. By 2010 most wineries in New Zealand and Australia had switched to screw caps and because these caps are much cheaper to produce, many wineries in Europe and the Americas followed suit. The result was a dramatic drop in the demand for cork and the potential loss of thousands of hectares of cork forest. Fortunately, two things happened to alleviate the situation. One was a renewed demand for genuine wine corks by consumers and the other was the development of cork leather as the best vegan alternative to leather.