Spent yesterday morning at Amorim's labs with Dr Paulo Lopes, who's a scientist working on issues such as oxygen transmission by closures. It sounds nerdy and dull, but it's really important. Paulo did a presentation on efforts by Amorim to deal with the taint issue, then he presented his work on how much oxygen ingress there is with each type of closure.
Then it was time to see a couple of cork manufacturing and processing plants. High-end corks are still punched by hand (top picture), a skilled task where rapidly taken decisions about where to punch the next cork from have important quality implications. The corks are then sorted either automatically, or manually (above). The best quality corks can cost more than a Euro each (below) - and they look beautiful. The modern cork production process is a fusion of the modern (e.g. gas chromatography screening for minute TCA levels) with the traditional (cutting cork bark, hand punching corks).