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  • Marco Giovanetti

Scandinavia: The Last Frontier of Winemaking


Frederiksdal vineyard in Harpelunde, Denmark
Frederiksdal's cherry winery, in Harpelunde, Denmark

The Scandinavian wine industry has experienced a remarkable transformation over the past decade, defying the traditional belief that wine production could only thrive in warm climates. For instance, in 2019, Denmark boasted 90 commercial vineyards, a dramatic increase from just mere two 15 years ago, and close to 40 have sprung up in Sweden. Furthermore, Nearly a dozen vineyards are fully operational as far north as Norway.


This post explores the rise of the wine industry in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and even the Arctic Circle. By delving into the factors contributing to this growth, including climate change, technological advancements, and a shift in consumer preferences, we will shed light on how these countries have emerged as unexpected pioneers in the world of winemaking.

Denmark: From Cabbage Fields to Vineyards


Denmark, historically known for its chilly climate and agricultural focus on potatoes and cabbage, has emerged as a prominent player in the Scandinavian wine industry. The rise of the industry can be attributed to multiple factors. Firstly, climate change has resulted in milder winters and longer, warmer growing seasons, creating an environment more suitable for grape cultivation. Denmark now has more than 100 vineyards, more than doubling its previous total in just the past ten years. With a changing environment on their side, vineyards in the area have matured thanks to longer vine cycles that now last into September, and cold-tolerant grapes.



Climate specialists state that wine-growing conditions in Scandinavia will resemble those in northern France in 50 years. However, many weather patterns, such as those in areas with cool, temperate climates, sporadic spring frosts, substantial amounts of rain, and milder summers, already resemble those in Champagne. Furthermore, Danish winemakers have embraced innovative techniques such as greenhouse production and hybrid grape varieties to adapt to the unique climate challenges. Some of the kinds that have been shown to produce good outcomes include the red Rondo and Regent grapes and the white Solaris grape. They are all so-called "piwi," hybrid grapes that are popular in Northern Europe and were developed through cross-breeding to gain specific traits like a good tolerance to frost and various grape illnesses. This combination of factors has allowed Denmark to produce quality wines that are gaining recognition on the international stage.


Cherry winery at Frederiksdal Estate located on Lolland in Denmark.
Photo by Sara Gacic, Frederiksdal Estate, Denmark


Sweden: Climatic Surprises and Cold-Climate Wonders

Sweden, with its vast landscapes and colder climate, has also joined the Scandinavian wine revolution. The wine industry in Sweden has capitalized on the concept of "cold-climate wines," which refers to grape varieties capable of thriving in cooler temperatures. Thanks to advancements in viticulture and the cultivation of cold-hardy grape varieties, such as Rondo and Solaris, Swedish winemakers have successfully overcome climatic obstacles and created unique wines with distinctive characteristics.


Other productive grapes produced in the nation for the production of wine include Cabernet Cortis, Muscaris, and Souvignier Gris. Scania and Södermanland are the two principal wine-producing regions in Sweden. Swedish white wines tend to develop complex nuances of yellow apples, butter, and spices with a touch of vanilla, peach, elder and lemon. On the other hand, red wines tend to be fruity and grapey reminiscent of Pinot Noir. The establishment of vineyards in southern Sweden, benefiting from the country's extended daylight hours during the summer, has significantly contributed to the expansion of the wine industry. Swedish wines, often labelled as boutique and niche products, are gaining attention for their exceptional quality and ability to express the terroir of their origin.


women sitting in front of a vineyard, Skepparps Vingård, Skåne wine region,
Skåne wine region, Photo credit: Skepparps Vingård

Finland: Pushing the Limits of Winemaking

Finland, a country synonymous with freezing temperatures and long, harsh winters, has defied expectations by establishing a nascent wine industry. Although winemaking in Finland faces even greater challenges due to its northern location, the industry has experienced modest growth. Using innovative techniques, such as burying vines during winter for insulation and utilizing geothermal energy, has allowed Finnish winemakers to push the boundaries of winemaking in extreme climates.


By focusing on hybrid grape varieties and exploring new viticultural practices, Finland is carving a niche for itself in the wine market, producing small but notable quantities of high-quality wines that capture the resilience and determination of the winemakers. For instance, some wine estates such as visionary Aiona Winery apply red winemaking techniques to craft wines from cloudberries, lingonberries, blueberries, and raspberries and sea buckthorn. The estate won in 2017, the prestigious Vinealis Trophy for their raspberry wine, the highest award given by a winemaking association in Europe.


a glass of white wine on a terrace overlooking on Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, Finland


The Arctic Circle: Viticulture Beyond Boundaries

Even beyond the borders of Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, the wine industry has expanded into the Arctic Circle. In places like Norway, winemakers have embraced unconventional practices to create wines in the face of extreme cold and rugged landscapes. In Norway, the wine industry is pushing the frontiers of arctic winemaking. At the moment, there are only ten viable commercial wineries. The Slinde Vineyard, tended by Bjørn Bergum, is one of the most northerly commercial vineyards in the world. It is situated on slopes 61.1 degrees north. It's undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, framed by snow-capped mountains and the beautiful Sognefjord mount. The closeness to the fjord is a crucial factor in the production of Norwegian wine because it reduces the impact of winter and spring cold fronts and ensures a higher average temperature even in summer and autumn.


To continue, Lerkekåsa Vineyard is the world’s northernmost vineyard in Telemark, Norway. The vineyard is situated at a latitude of 59 degrees north, in a similar position to Alaska. The vineyard is situated 100 meters above sea level, in a sunny region, and faces the stunning Norsj Lake. The vineyard was formerly a farm where apples and vegetables were grown. These pioneering efforts exemplify the human ingenuity and determination to explore new frontiers and challenge preconceived notions about winemaking.


Joar Saettem and his wife Wenche Hvattum walking in their Lerkekasa Vineyard, in Gvarv, Norway.
Lerkekasa Vineyard, in Gvarv, Norway.

The rise of the Scandinavian wine industry over the past decade showcases the resilience and adaptability of winemakers in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and even in the Arctic Circle. Through innovative techniques, adapting to new climatic conditions, and utilizing hybrid grape varieties, these countries have successfully produced wines that reflect their unique terroir. The emergence of the Scandinavian wine industry demonstrates that passion, perseverance, and a willingness to take risks pay off in the end.





References:

1. The New York Times. 2019. “Scandinavian Wine? A Warming Climate Tempts Entrepreneurs,” November 9, 2019.

2. “Wines from Scandinavia.” 2019. The New Gastronome. April 16, 2019.

3. xtraWine. 2022. “Wine Production in Northern Europe.” XtraWine Blog. July 11, 2022. 4. “Swedish White Wine Selection.” n.d. Nordic Vineyards. Accessed July 5, 2023.

5.“The Secret behind Finland’s Wine Revolution | Wine Enthusiast.” n.d. www.wineenthusiast.com. Accessed July 5, 2023. 6. Marshall, Sarah. 2022. “Welcome to Europe’s Most Surprising Wine Region.” The Telegraph, November 13, 2022. 7. “Wine in Norway and Norsk Vin.” 2021. Gambero Rosso International. March 11, 2021.

8.“Hjem.” n.d. Lerkekåsa Vingård. Accessed July 5, 2023. 9. News, A. B. C. n.d. “What’s Believed to Be the Most Northerly Vineyard in the World, in Norway, Is up for Sale.” ABC News. Accessed July 5, 2023.


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