This blog post is the second of a two-part series recapping Assistant Winemaker Jesse Fox’s week-long trip to Portugal to tour the cork forests and visit the cork-making facilities. Thanks to Portocork for hosting this wonderful trip! To catch up on The Journey of a Cork: Part One, click here.

Part Two of a cork’s journey takes place within the cork-making facilities themselves, beginning with Quality Control.

Quality Control at the Cork Making Facility

Act IV: Quality Control

The quality control process is a significant part of cork-making, particularly to prevent the presence of TCA (Trichloroanisole), or “cork taint.” In addition, the quality control process examines each piece of cork bark to determine if the cork is the right size and quality to be natural cork, or if instead, it will be made into cork discs or be broken down and remade into a composite cork:

Composite Cork

All cork for Ram’s Gate wines is “natural cork,” or cork punched out of a bark piece in whole pieces.

Hand-Punched Natural Cork

Act V: Hand-Punching

Slabs of cork separated by size

49 centimeter by 25 centimeter cork pieces – the size we use for Ram’s Gate wines

The cork slabs are next separated by size, categorized based on the length the cork will soon be — in the case of Ram’s Gate wines, these pieces are 49mm x 25mm.

Only about 15% of cork harvested is a sufficient quality to then be hand-punched:

Hand-Punched Cork

The rectangular slabs or cork are sliced into thick strips, then hand punched, cork by cork, by a team of experts in order to maximize yield with the highest quality:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuAPLlJ26rA]

Cork Bark After Corks are Punched

The cork bark, after its corks are hand-punched out

This labor-intensive art form is followed by yet another quality control process, during which every cork is inspected and verified. Corks continue to be sorted for quality control up to six more times for both technical and visual quality by hand and by specially designed machines. The corks are then polished before being bagged and shipped to their destination.

Hand Punched Corks

Cork Being Inspected

Rams Gate Winery Cork

Finishing with a quick spin around Portugal’s famed Douro region and a flight or two of Port, Jesse returned to Ram’s Gate Winery with a few souvenirs and a heightened sense of the care and precision that goes into every cork. “It’s all incredibly interesting,” he concludes, “to actually see just how rare the cork is that we use for Ram’s Gate wines… it gives me a new-found appreciation for how much work goes into each one.”

Douro River, Portugal

The Douro River in Portugal

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