Wife and husband business partners Kim and Keith have been traveling internationally as a part of Keith’s wine import trade for years, to countries large and small, down and across, always soaking in far more than just the tastings and dinners and winery tours. Having spent six years working closely and traveling with the dearly-departed English beer and whisky writer Michael Jackson, we have always appreciated the style that he taught us, being far more interested in the people, their families, and the history, with the beverage being quite secondary to the much bigger picture of time, heritage, and passion.
This resulted in a very direct hop to wanting to understand more about the cork industry while on numerous wine trips to what was becoming a favorite destination, Portugal. Beautiful products in village shops and stunning walks through cork oak groves turned us into curious fans in no time. The warmth and generosity of the Portuguese people made it even more attractive, and an entirely enjoyable experience, to dig deeper and see how we might be involved. Our hopeless entrepreneurial spirit and complete trust in the products and the people told us to go for it, and in July of 2015, Cork Karma was born.
If you had an inside track at working with wonderful people in a proud and growing industry, and a product that is beautiful, durable, sustainable, and environmentally positive in every way, wouldn’t you? We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have the opportunity to be advocates for both the families and the countryside that give cork to us. In addition, we are able to transport the products to the U.S. by adding our supplies to our wine containers that are already moving from Portugal to the states; the lightweight nature of cork means that we can simply have the boxes placed on top of the wine stacks at no significant change in weight whatsoever. So not only are we adding no additional carbon footprint impact to the journey of over 5,000 miles (we live and work in the awesome Salish Sea and Puget Sound region, as we have for over 30 years), but the cost of transportation is dramatically lower than if dedicated shipments had to be arranged, and we can offer more reasonable pricing on the very cool and unique items that we select, and in some cases, have produced exclusively for Cork Karma.
What the Cork?
Where is cork grown?
Cork is, as you may know, the natural bark of the cork tree, which is a noble oak species (Quercus suber) and a true national treasure in Portugal, where an estimated 70% of the world’s trade in cork is created. Despite common misunderstandings, there is no shortage of cork because of over-harvesting or too many wine corks being used worldwide. The trees are grown and cared for with the utmost pride and dignity in “montados”, essentially orchards, largely in the rural southeast of the small and friendly country where the growing season is long and warm and dry, with just enough rainfall and perfect winds, and the soils are ideal for their health. This same region, where the cork oaks can live for up to 300 years, is also well known for outstanding olives and wine grapes – splendid agriculture, indeed.
How is cork harvested?
The harvesting of cork is not a process that harms the tree or shortens its life in any way; in fact, the product is remarkably renewable and sustainable specifically because the removal of the bark (which occurs under strict practices only every 9 years, at times even up to 10 to 12) is done only by expert cork harvesters who understand the delicate hand process, does not damage the trunk, and maintains the disease and fungus-free health of the tree. As the bark regenerates itself for the next 9 years, it absorbs CO2 and creates a rich forest environment with reduced erosion that is beneficial to a variety of other plant and animal species, many quite rare. And generations of local family farmers are able to maintain a decent livelihood.
Peeled from the trees and most commonly carried from the forests on foot or by small cart, sections of the bark sit in the sun to dry for six or more months before being boiled, to remove remove bacteria and lichens, as well as to make them pliable. Natural, beautiful, lightweight and waterproof in all of its different forms, it can be used for wine stoppers (still the number one end-product), worked into rustic thick objects, or sliced into shockingly durable thin sheets that are as versatile as they are innovative. The wear is similar to leather, but cork can withstand constant exposure to water, grease, dust and dirt, is hypoallergenic and vegan.
Eco-friendly, durable, waterproof: Authentic
Plenty of today’s new synthetic materials are cool and convenient and handy, to be sure. But the naturally beautiful, tactile, sustainable, ecological coolness of a product so old-school that it has been used to close precious wine bottles since the 5th century is, well, just so autêntico!
All products are from Portugal
Location: Bellingham, WA
Because we do not have a physical store location, we are often traveling and working on projects that keep us away from our desks. The best way to reach us is by email or the Contact form here, and we do always try to respond within 24 hours. If you are interested in purchasing a small quantity, or even just one, of the items shown on our site, please ask – we’ll reply with a price that includes shipping, and can accept PayPal or chargecards securely as payment if it works for you. Thanks!