The cork oak forest
Forest is the one element that stands out from the harmonious landscape of the RG Rovisco Garcia estates. It is mostly cork oak , as is the use in these parts of Alentejo, where we call it montado. One of the richest ecosystems in the world and an example of sustainable forest management.
34 percent of the cork oak forest area in the world is to be found in Portugal. That’s more than 1.8 million acres, or 23 percent of the country’s forest, dedicated to a multifuntional system devised by man and based on the cork oak tree, combining forestry, agricultural and herding practices.
Until the last decade of the 20th century RG Rovisco Garcia followed the pattern of the region, dedicating most of its activity to cork oak and its traditional products cork and extensive livestock. Then, entering a new millennium and willing to lessen the dependence on cork oak products, we set on a new course. We reorganized and reduced livestock, introducing game species such as roe deer, wild boar, thrushes and pigeons, thus diminishing impact on the soil. Crops and activities were diversified. We planted vineyards and olive groves, laying the foundations for the production and marketing of RG Rovisco Garcia trademark wines and olive oils.
The unequivocal commitment to a responsible management and to the best agro-forestry practices would eventually bear fruit, in the shape of a greater biodiversity and a stronger natural regeneration. We have always cherished and valued the environmental functions of the cork oak forest, on a level with the economic and social ones. It is a barrier to desertification, as it preserves the soils and regulates the hydrological cycle and the quality of water; it is a carbon fixer and oxygen producer; it is a habitat for countless species of fauna and flora, some of which in a vulnerable or endangered situation.
Closely connected to the forest and its unique ecosystem, a new activity eventually flourished from this vision in the lands of RG Rovisco Garcia: Nature Tourism.
“Vineyards of mine, olive groves of my parents, cork oak groves of my ancestors” – popular saying in Alentejo
Cork oaks are worth much more than the land they live on. They produce cork, a material used in a number of industries that look for a set of qualities that no technology has yet surpassed or even matched.
Extracted from the tree with no harm or consequence to its health, cork is a 100% natural product, 100% reusable and 100% recyclable. Its commercial value is the cornerstone of the sustainability and the preserving of the cork oak forest.
Its oldest and most traditional use is as a natural sealant, namely as a stopper for quality wine bottles. Recently cork has also become a valued component for building materials and a number of other industries, from clothing to aerospace and health, for properties such as thermal and acoustic insulation, impermeability to liquids and gases, lightness and resistance to friction, elasticity, and compressibility, among others.
Cork oak forests are in a serious risk of decline, in Portugal and in all areas where the species occurs, particularly because of climate change. Production of cork thus faces a huge challenge. RG Rovisco Garcia is proud of its active role in the search for solutions that may secure the future and sustainability of this natural resource and of its environment.
Speaking of cork oak groves means speaking of time. A very, very long time. The first stripping of a cork oak can only take place when the tree is 25 years old. That’s the time the cork oak needs to reach the necessary size to grow its so-called virgin bark. This cork is too hard and irregular to produce stoppers, so it is usually grained and used for flooring and other building materials.
It then takes another nine years until the tree can be stripped for the second time. This second “harvest” produces cork that is more regular, but still unfit for stoppers. It is only after the third stripping, when it is 43 years old, that a cork tree will finally produce the softer, smoother and more regular cork that can be used for stoppers, that is to say the top of its added value. The tree will keep on living and regenerating its bark for some 150 years more, but stripping can only be done at 9 year gaps.
The enormous length of these cycles and the risk of decline faced by the cork oak forest are seriously conditioning and compromising the entire cork industry. Side by side with the best forestry practices, RG Rovisco Garcia has started and is currently carrying on a pioneering experience that has already produced very positive signs.
Watered cork oaks
To fight the serious risk of decline of the cork oak forest, we started, in 2003, an experience with watered cork oaks, until today with very promising results.
The Umbrella Pine
173 acres of umbrella pine complete the forest landscape of our estates. Native to the Mediterranean region, this tree produces wood that is very resistant to humidity and thus used to many different purposes. Its tannin-rich bark was traditionally used for tanning leather. And its seed, the pine nut, is a must in Mediterranean cuisine, highly appreciated and valued as an aperitif. Both the pine cone and the cork we produce are certified to come from responsibly managed forests.
The Conqueiro and Monte Novo estates are part of the CERTIBEI group, certified after the FSC®(Forest Stewardship Council®) (FSC-C105877) and PEFC™ (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification™).
So, from forest management to responsible purchase decision-making, we cultivate an entirely sustainable economic cycle.