Pop­ping corks for a good cause

Fair­way re­cy­cling pro­gram ben­e­fits na­ture cen­ter

The News-Times - - BUSINESS - By Paul Schott pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; Twit­ter: @paulschott

Af­ter the wine bot­tles pop, their tops are still valu­able com­modi­ties.

Fair­way Wines & Spir­its launched two weeks ago an ini­tia­tive to re­cy­cle bot­tle corks, which en­close most of the vin­tages sold at its Stam­ford es­tab­lish­ment and other tri-state lo­ca­tions. The pro­gram aims to ed­u­cate cus­tomers about wine con­sump­tion, while also sup­port­ing a Darien non­profit and eco­nomic and eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity on the other side of the At­lantic Ocean.

“We’re ed­u­cat­ing our con­sumers on the wine side, and we’re do­ing good for the environment,” An­gelo Martelli, Fair­way’s di­rec­tor of wines, said in an in­ter­view this week at the Stam­ford store, at 689 Canal St., in the city’s South End. “We want to be at the fore­front in ed­u­ca­tion in the wine in­dus­try, and we also want our con­sumers to have a great ex­pe­ri­ence and un­der­stand why it is we’re do­ing these types of events.”

In the Stam­ford out­let, do­na­tion boxes for the corks are sta­tioned at each reg­is­ter and next to the front en­trance. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing posters and hand­outs out­line cork’s en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits. Al­ready sev­eral hun­dred stop­pers have been dropped off, ac­cord­ing to Martelli.

The ap­prox­i­mately 3,500 wines sold in the 7,500square-foot Stam­ford store cre­ate a vo­lu­mi­nous sup­ply. At least 85 per­cent of them use cork ex­ported from Por­tu­gal, Martelli es­ti­mates.

“Cork is 100 per­cent nat­u­ral; there’s noth­ing syn­thetic in it,” Martelli said. “It breathes nat­u­rally, and it’s very im­por­tant for wine be­cause wine is an evolv­ing food. It’s evolv­ing in the bot­tle and just to let a lit­tle bit of air in and out, that’s what nat­u­ral cork does.”

A num­ber of Fair­way clients also are en­thu­si­as­tic about the ini­tia­tive.

“I think a lot of peo­ple aren’t aware that cork can be re­cy­cled, so hav­ing some­thing in a store with a large foot­print helps to spread aware­ness,” said Anna Lisa Stock­well, a wine and spir­its con­sul­tant with Opici Fam­ily Dis­tribut­ing.

Re­new­able and re­us­able re­source

The Stam­ford store’s do­nated corks will be sent to the Darien Na­ture Cen­ter.

For sev­eral years, the non­profit has been col­lect­ing bot­tle corks, for which it re­ceives small re­im­burse­ments from re­sellers. The ma­te­rial can be re­pur­posed for uses in­clud­ing boards and coast­ers, cloth­ing, floor­ing and in­su­la­tion, and shoes.

The Na­ture Cen­ter ex­pects to earn about $300 this year for a haul of about 30,000 cork pieces. Those pro­ceeds will help de­fray ex­pen­di­tures for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that takes care of about 40 an­i­mals.

“Peo­ple are start­ing to get into the habit of tak­ing cork to liquor stores,” said Leila Wet­more, the Darien Na­ture Cen­ter’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “What we want to do is say ‘Not only are you re­cy­cling cork, you are also help­ing the Darien Na­ture Cen­ter at the same time.’”

The Por­tuguese Cork As­so­ci­a­tion is also sup­port­ing the ini­tia­tive. Por­tu­gal is the world’s top cork pro­ducer and ac­counts for the largest share of global cork oak acreage, 34 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a PCA re­port.

Por­tuguese cork oak forests are a “sink” that re­move about

4.8 mil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide from the air, equal­ing an off­set of about 113 grams per cork piece, ac­cord­ing to the Forestville, Calif.-based Cork Qual­ity Coun­cil.

Amer­ica rep­re­sents the largest mar­ket for Por­tuguese cork, with state­side ex­ports in

2015 to­tal­ing about $200 mil­lion, the PCA study said. In the past few years, an aver­age of about 20 per­cent of the coun­try’s cork has been sent to the U.S.

“We un­der­stand the im­por­tance of cork in Por­tu­gal, and ev­ery­body ben­e­fits from us be­ing the stew­ards of this great sus­tain­abil­ity story,” said Car­los De Je­sus, the Por­tuguese Cork As­so­ci­a­tion’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “But we don’t think that knowl­edge can stay just in Por­tu­gal. It needs to be spread out as much as pos­si­ble, and the U.S. is a cru­cial mar­ket.”

Rather than be­ing cut down, cork oak trees’ bark is sheared like a sheep’s wool. The bark grows back and can be har­vested ev­ery nine years, with the trees ca­pa­ble of liv­ing more than 200 years.

Mediterranean cork forests are rich in their bio­di­ver­sity, home to an­i­mals in­clud­ing the en­dan­gered Ibe­rian lynx, Ibe­rian im­pe­rial ea­gle, the Bar­bary deer and a num­ber of species of rare birds.

But in­creas­ing use of other types of wine stop­pers could re­duce the value of cork forests, re­sult­ing in their con­ver­sion for other uses or even aban­don­ment, the World Wide Fund for Na­ture cau­tions on its web­site.

Martelli said he is well aware of the global im­pact of Amer­i­can wine con­nois­seurs’ con­sump­tion. He vis­ited a cork for­est dur­ing a busi­ness trip last April to Por­tu­gal.

Fair­way’s re­cy­cling ini­tia­tive was orig­i­nally in­tended to run un­til Amer­ica Re­cy­cles Day, on Nov. 15, but Martelli plans to ex­tend it to at least the end of the year and then eval­u­ate its sta­tus.

“It doesn’t take up much space, and we’re still sell­ing the wine,” Martelli said. “And it’s good ed­u­ca­tion for the con­sumer.”

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Fair­way Mar­ket has a new cork re­cy­cling ini­tia­tive and has bins to col­lect used corks as well as in­for­ma­tional signs posted through­out its wine and spir­its store at 699 Canal St. in Stam­ford.

An­gelo Martelli, di­rec­tor of wines at Fair­way Mar­ket, dis­cusses the su­per­mar­ket's new cork re­cy­cling ini­tia­tive.

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