Wine heads further north

Sunday, 23. September 2018 - 15:30

VitiNord 2018 was held in Copenhagen and Malmö, right in the centre of the emerging winegrowing regions of northern Europe, and the conference included two days with field trips: one day in Sweden with visits to five wineries, and one day in Denmark, where three wineries opened their doors. It’s the kind of wine touring that would have been unthinkable even two decades ago, when viticulture in these regions was close to unviable. 

A new world opens up
One of the organisers and keynote speakers was Torben Bo Toldam-Andersen, associate professor at Copenhagen University. His summary of what’s needed for the new Nordic wine region to reach commercial status called for further development in three areas. First, higher yields are needed, he says, with a reasonable year-to-year variation; second, both fruit and wine quality must be high enough to match the international market’s expectations; and third, winemaking skills must be able to transform the juice into regionally distinct wines and wine styles.

Another important new trend, as Toldam sees it, is the wine world recognising that it’s possible to make good wine with cultivars other than Vitis vinifera. Interspecific hybrids or crosses such as Solaris, Muscaris, Johanitter and Sauvignon Gris seem to have great potential and “it’s here we have to optimise,” he says.

German wine consultant Jens Heinemeyer talked about a new Nordic wine style as a natural companion of the new Nordic cuisine. The new Nordic wines don’t have to copy Champagne as the English have done, he says; they can keep on with the grape varieties they already have and supply the market with classics such as Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, and enhance quality by making more blends. He sees a future for sparkling wine and crisp whites in the styles of Mosel, Sancerre and Loire.

Dr Vassileios Varela from Greece, who is a wine, vine and sustainability consultant and researcher, suggested that a Nordic wine certified sustainable label could be a management tool for the promotion of wine tourism in Scandinavia.

There are road blocks to development: while Danish winegrowers can sell most of their wine locally, in their own shop or in nearby outlets and restaurants, this is not the case in Sweden because of the state retail monopoly, Systembolaget. Swedish producers can’t establish a shop, and nor are they allowed to offering wine tastings at their wineries if they don’t have a restaurant licence.

Sweden’s tight alcohol controls were demonstrated the day the delegates visited Denmark’s Pomentum, the national fruit, berry and nut genetic resource collection, where they were served Danish wines with dinner. When they boarded the bus to return to their hotel, the Swedish driver couldn’t get it to start. Although the bus driver had drunk nothing, the Danish grape and fruit wines enjoyed by the delegates had been detected by the alcoholmeter in the bus. The driver had to open the window for five minutes to clear the air before the Swedish bus allowed her to drive again.

Looking forward
Still, Scandinavian viticulture – and cold climate viticulture in general – has come a long way. It was only in 2004 that Tom Plocher and Mark Hart, two research scientists and grape breeders in Minnesota, began promoting the idea that success in emerging northern grape growing regions could be enhanced by communication and sharing ideas. They sat up an organisation called the International Association of Northern Viticulture (IANV) to promote the advancement of viticulture and oenology in northern environments that are characterised by cool or short summers and/or cold winters. 

They were also responsible for the founding of VitiNord, a triennial conference that rotates between Europe and North America. It was first held in Riga, Latvia in November 2006, and then moved to Quebec, Canada, on to the Pomeranian region of Europe, and then to Nebraska City, the southern limit for what is regarded as cool climate viticulture in North America. VitiNord 2018 was a joint venture between the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, University of Copenhagen, The Danish Wine Association, The Swedish Wine Association and Nordic Light Terroir, Sweden. 

The next VitiNord? The location is not settled yet, but Hart thinks the eastern maritime region of Canada, Nova Scotia, could be appropriate, being fairly similar to Scandinavia in climate, although with slightly cooler winters. He says: “In about six months, we will know.” 
Elsebeth Lohfert

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2018 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine, available on ipad or in print.