Forget the temperature of your wine cellar, the shape of your glass, or the amount of time you aerate that bottle. The single most important thing that determines the deliciousness of your wine is small yet mighty: The cork! Learn more about Paso’s die-hard cork dorks while also gleaning some behind-the-scenes knowledge on how the mysterious substance is grown, harvested, and processed. Bet you never knew that one little cork could be so darn exciting.
But First: Why Does it Matter?
Truly, the humble cork is the only thing that stands between your wine and the elements, and we all know that one bad cork can ruin a long-awaited vintage. Top tier Paso Robles wineries know that a good, high-quality cork is an absolute must for keeping a good wine fresh. Sub-par corks can carry higher instances of cork taint (resulting in musty wine), and synthetic corks—while not the worst thing in the world—don’t allow the same amount of air to travel between the bottle and wine. Really, it’s a dance…and you can’t dance without the proper shoes, eh?
Cork Dork: Dubost Ranch Winery
Don’t let the down-home vibe and casual “howdy neighbor” atmosphere fool you. At Dubost Ranch, wines are crafted with the upmost care, and these folks know that when it comes to aging gracefully, a good cork is handier than the most expensive wrinkle cream. Known for offering robust reds (many which can age beautifully for ten years or more), you can bet these bottles are corked the right way. That is to say, to stand the test of time.
Mapping and Directions: speedfind.com/DubostWinery
They Don’t Grow on Trees
Corks are—in fact—sourced from the Cork Oak tree. The Montado landscape of Portugal produces approximately half of all cork harvested annually worldwide, although Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy, and France are all celebrated growing regions. Cork is extracted only from early May to late August, when the cork can be separated from the tree without causing permanent damage. When the tree reaches 25–30 years of age and about 24 inches in circumference, the cork can be removed for the first time (hooray!). However, this first harvest almost always produces poor quality cork. Bark from initial harvests can be used to make flooring, shoes, insulation and other industrial products. Subsequent extractions usually occur at intervals of nine years, though it can take up to 13 years for the cork to reach an acceptable size. If the product is of high quality it is known as “gentle” cork—and that’s the kind you’ll find stopping your fave bottle of Paso wine.
Cork Dork: Bodega de Edgar
When you’re part of “La Familia wine club” you know you’re home. At Bodega de Edgar, each wine is treated like flesh and blood: precious and beloved. That means ultra boutique winemaking practices are topped off with the finest cork available. Only the best for family!
Mapping and Directions: speedfind.com/BodegaDeEdgar
How the Sausage is Made
After the harvested cork planks are taken from the trees, cork companies store the long boards on concrete or another dry surface, in an effort to lower the risk of contamination by micro-organisms (which are so not good for wine). Next, the material is softened and cleaned in boiling water. Quality cork processing plants—the kind that produce high tier corks—always ensure that the water is fresh, clean, and uncontaminated. See a pattern forming here? Next, the planks are graded depending on quality, thickness, and usability. At this point, manual workers will physically “punch out” the best strips of material (these goodies are used for the highest-end cork needs). The finished corks then take a trip from one end of the factory to the other thanks to blasts of air that route each cork into its corresponding graded bin. Believe it or not, but real life human beings then visually sort the product, ensuring that the end result represents only the finest specimens. If you’re imagining an I Love Lucy assembly line scenario, you are not alone.
Cork Dork: Brecon Estate
Award-winning small batch premium wines are never sealed with an afterthought. At Brecon, climate and clone are united to create varietally pure wines that wow. Why go through all that trouble if you’re not using the best corks on the market? Brecon’s thoughts exactly!
Mapping and Directions: speedfind.com/BreconEstate
But is Cork Sustainable?
Yes! Usually, when we think about harvesting trees, terrible visions of deforestation come to mind. Here’s an interesting (and comforting) fact about cork: The cork industry is generally regarded as environmentally friendly because a cork tree is not cut down to obtain cork; only the bark is stripped to harvest the cork. If only other materials could be sourced in such a loving way! The tree continues to live and grow even after the handy cork is harvested, allowing forests to regenerate and thrive. Plus: Cork Oak forests can offer a refuge for endangered species of all ilk. I know…crazy to think that the little nubbin in your Nebbiolo could be so noble.
Cork Dork: Cayucos Cellars
When you make wines by the beach, it’s easy to feel relaxed about life…but the folks at Cayucos Cellars are anything but chill when it comes to cork quality. With a history of quality that dates back to the 1980s, this family owned winery has continued to prove that hard work and attention to detail (even the tiniest wine enclosure) can truly pay off.
Mapping and Directions: speedfind.com/CayucosCellars
You Can Upcycle Your Corks, Too!
Last year, Americans drank about 913 million gallons of wine. That’s a whole lot of corks being popped, used, and discarded. Do your part to keep corks out of the landfill with a few of these fun projects:
Make a DIY cork backsplash for your kitchen
Make a DIY cork bath mat
Make a DIY cork chandelier
Make a DIY holiday wreath
Make DIY coasters
Cork Dork: Écluse Wines
The folks at Écluse Wines take their wines and their land very seriously. When it comes to their Lock Vineyard, no detail is too small. From water conservation to the use of beneficial insects in the vineyard, Écluse wines craft boutique bottles that shine with flavor and sustainability.
Mapping and Directions: speedfind.com/EcluseWines
If you’re looking for a place to spend the night in Paso Robles, checkout:
The Adelaide Inn is an iconic, locally owned hotel known for its friendly staff and lush landscaping. With spacious rooms and a convenient location close to highway 101 and the event center – home of the California Mid-State Fair – this hotel is a great choice for most travelers.
La Bellasera Hotel & Suites is an elegant boutique hotel nestled in the heart of Central Coast Wine Country. Influenced by Mediterranean and Italian architecture, the luxurious accommodations reflect the aged sophistication of the Central Coast region and the relaxed nature of the California countryside.
Hampton Inn & Suites Paso Robles is nestled in the Central Coast wine region, home to over 200 wineries, beautiful beaches, mountains and diverse attractions. Relax and revive in a comfortable guest room with all you need for a successful stay. You can count on Hampton to deliver value, consistency and service with a smile. We love having you here®
Experience the pristine countryside of Paso Robles Wine Country at Lekai Ranch. Lounge on the porch of your private suite and lose yourself in the tranquility and stunning views of the vineyards and oak studded hills beyond. This vacation rental is located just minutes from some of the most distinguished wineries and a premier olive oil estate, and only 15 minutes from downtown Paso Robles’ restaurants, wineries and shopping.