05 September 2002 | Liam O'Brien
The onward march of the plastic wine stopper is to be confronted by the embattled Portuguese cork industry with a plan for massive investment to improve its supply chain practices and new technology.
Plastic accounts for 8 per cent of the wine "closure" market and Portugal's 190 certified cork makers hope a e200 million cash boost will improve the reputation of their traditional product.
Cork's popularity has been dented in recent years by the problem of "corked" bottles turned musty by contamination, which can be avoided by using plastic stoppers.
The Portuguese Cork Association (Apcor) says several of the country's producers have taken over previously outsourced supply and distribution lines and have installed new quality control machinery.
A spokesperson for the association said: "What synthetic corks have succeeded in doing is to get the natural cork producers to take quality control far more seriously."
Apcor believes its members are winning the PR battle against plastic and claim the public would avoid wine with plastic stoppers if they knew what they were buying.
During a recent visit to Portugal, the Prince of Wales expressed his wonder that people were willing to use synthetic stoppers, which he described as "nasty plastic plugs".
The cork industry is a big contributor to Portuguese exports and produces 340,000 tonnes a year. Exports are worth e879.5 million.