My husband owned a restaurant years ago. When we closed the restaurant, a spare bedroom became the overflow wine cellar as the Vinotheque clearly couldn’t fit that many cases of wine. And sometime even before that, I had begun to collect corks. At many business dinners with good friends and colleagues, we’d sign the corks. I dropped them in my bag, took them home, and saved them. I envisioned making a table of them, or shall I say a table top, though there wasn’t yet a specific plan in place, or vision of what they might be used for. I’m sure my friends thought me crazy but they went along with it.
4 years ago, we moved into our current home. The man-cave downstairs housed a black leather sectional with a solid and large wood coffee table. A few scratches, a bit of wear. But a functional, heavy piece of furniture. It came to me then that the table top would become a work of art with the corks I had been collecting. Fast forward two years. I was finally ready for the cork project.
It took me a few attempts to determine the optimal pattern and with the help of my husband, decided on a herringbone pattern. I had never considered that corks are so varied in size and dimension – the Justin corks are medium in length, Silver Oak corks very long, Rombauer and Turley are on the shorter side ( a few of our favorite wines). There are fat, narrow, and odd sized corks that all needed to be fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to make the pattern I wanted. Which meant that despite the fact that I had wine boxes and bags full of corks, I reached out to our club and favorite restaurants and asked them to save me corks. Most were very happy to share the corks, particularly given they were going to be used in an upcycling project.
I also learned that old corks were much shorter than those used today. By old, I mean 50 year old + corks. My very sweet 85 year old neighbor gave me a bag of corks he had collected over 50 years. They were so fun to go through – and to see the old brands still very much a part of the wine ecosystem today, like Robert Mondavi or Acacia.
Once I got the assembly right, I used cement glue on the table and the back side of the corks, and working in sections no bigger than a square foot, began the gluing process. I used a glue gun to fill in when the corks didn’t fit just right. Over the course of the next two months, I went down memory lane as I glued the corks, “oh this was from the trip to NYC with Caroline, Maria, Bill” or “this was from the dinner party with Doug and Scott”. Going down memory lane with each one…where the wines were drunk, with whom, how we learned about that wine, I reflected on the stories, friends and places I experienced over the years. I also wondered what the stories were behind the special collection my neighbor gave me, which is easily remedied by having him over for a glass of wine!
At last, the corks were fully assembled, a beveled glass piece was ordered to place over the construction and the table top was completed. We were delighted with how it came out, beautifully patterned and reflective of the complexity of so many of the wines. I didn’t bother to count how many unique wines were used for the project. Perhaps some day. But I did try to find just last night a few of the corks that were signed and amazingly enough, they weren’t as obvious as I thought. I felt like I was looking for Where’s Waldo, so sat back and just reengaged with the fun memories of the stories that led to collecting the cork and the joy that the table creation had given me.
As for the hundreds of corks I have left over, I’m confident there will be an inspirational project that comes up when the time is right.