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Santa Claus’s Vineyards

Chianti, Bordeaux and...Oslo? Climate change is remapping the borders of the winemaking world…
by Michela Marchi

So now it seems Scandinavians are making wine. Climate change is remapping the borders of viticulture, and putting “Made in Sweden” Merlot and Chardonnay on the market, with grapes grown in areas further north than Aberdeen or Moscow.


Such as those from the Blaxsta winery, near Stockholm, which sells 3,000 bottles a year (the majority shipped to Hong Kong). Owner Goran Amnegard has collected some international accolades, including gold medal in the “sweet white wines” category in the Wine World Cup 2012 for his Vidal Ice Wine, and received a score of 16.5 out of 20 from renowned Financial Times critic Jancis Robinson.


Eiswein, icewine, vin de glace or vini di ghiaccio are wines made from grapes that, left to ripen on the vines, freeze in the cold climate and are then harvested at  -7°C and immediately pressed. Since the water remains frozen, the grape must that results is highly concentrated in sugars, extracts, acids and aromas.


As for the aromas? “Perhaps a hint of raspberry” suggests Wenche Hvattum, vigneron whose Lerkekåsa vineyard is located west of Oslo. “With a bit of blackcurrant”, says her husband Joar Saettem.


Do give you an idea, the Lerkekåsa vineyard is located at the same latitude as Siberia, southern Greenland and Alaska. The thousand or so plants in neat rows in Wenche and Joar’s vineyards cover a southern-facing hill in Gvarv, in the region of Telemark in southern Norway. “The climate is changing and becoming warmer,” says Joar, “We shouldn’t be surprised that we are able to cultivate vines at this latitude”.


The risk, however, is that often in summer is still too damp. “But 2014 seems to be a good year, we have had one of the warmest summers recorded in Norway. Last year we suffered frost and temperatures dropped to around -30°C. But we are expecting a perfect growing year in 2015”.


Active since 2007, Wenche and Joar hope to produce up to 1000 in the coming years. Agriculture is slighly easier in the Nordic countries compared to similar latitudes in other parts of the world, since the sea is warmed by the Gulf Stream. At an equivalent latitude in the southern hemisphere would be the southernmost tip of New Zealand, close to the Antarctic. Perhaps too extreme.


In the mean time, the debate is still open as to the northernmost limit of the wine-producing world. If until a generation ago, the border of European vineyards was the UK, today we see Lerkekåsa and Bjorn Bergum who cultivate vines near the sea in western Norway, with the names like “Fjord red” and “Fjord white.”  We wonder what the elves prefer.