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March 25, 2010

Wine. Made in Sweden.

Sweden, like the rest of Scandinavia, belongs to what is known as the vodka-belt. A long history of producing spirit has brought world famous brands, such as Absolut Vodka, to name only one. Aquavit is found in many different variations and there are lots of smaller and bigger beer breweries. But the latest trend is to start talking wine when it comes to Sweden... Swedish wine = wine made in Sweden from grapes grown in Sweden.

I am glad I got to meet and know Ronny Persson, one of Sweden's new winemakers. We share the passion for wine and together, some years ago, we organized the first Swedish Winefest with real vintners from Germany, Danmark and Sweden that was open to the public. Ronny is passionately involved in the Swedish winemakers association and that makes him a good partner to ask about Swedish wine:

Ronny,You are a Swedish winemaker: you and your team grow and produce wine here in Sweden, is that correct? Yes, that is correct. We are about 200 enthusiasts in Sweden who are growing and making wine here.

The atmosphere in the (winemakers'-)country reminds a little of what it must have been during the Gold Rush. Many highly motivated people who are investing loads of time, energy, work and money, into a not-quite-so-sure enterprise. With some of the odds against you, probably - as critical voices might say.

The experts are teaching us that commercial vine plantings should be located between 30-50 degrees latitude to succeed.... Skåne, the most southern muncipal district of Sweden is at between 55 - 69 degrees latitude. (As a reference: Ontario in Canada, which is known for ice wine and often believed to be one of the most northern wine regions, lies at 41-52.) With a winter like this one being extremly strong (like elsewhere), standing and cutting the vines, is only one more of several hurdles to overcome... But you and your colleagues seem to only get challenged, not at all discouraged.

Please explain for us: What makes one wanting to produce wine in Sweden, especially with so much wine being produced world wide?
The reason is that we want to do something different than what we used to do before. That this has become possible, is due to new grape varieties and a warmer climate. Besides, in Sweden, we really have many sun hours during the summer months!

You are not the first and only Swedish wineproducer: When was the first Swedish wine from grapes made and where in the country?
Already in the 60s, wine has been made here, but it is only since 2000 that the wine production is seriously on the rise. There are a few vineyards that were started up around 1995 that are now in full production.

How many winegrowers are there by today? And what is the trend?
We are ca. 200 members at the Föreningen Svenska Vinodlare (Swedish Winemakers Association), standing for about 75 different vineyards, of which some 25 are commercial.

Do this growers live from their wines or is it still a hobby for most?
It is still a hobby for most members. Maybe some 10 growers make their living from wine production today.

How many hectares are currently cultivated, in total?
Totally, we are talking about some 30-50 hectares in Sweden.

When did Sweden officially become a wine producing nation?
I believe, that was in 1998
.

Tell us about the Swedish Winegrowers Association. Is that an official institution, guaranteeing quality standards?
The association works to guarantee quality and the website lists all Swedish wines that have been approved at the Swedish wine assessment in 2009. The work is continued to devide Sweden into different regions to achieve regional wines and then Quality Wines, but this process will still take some more years. Which also explaines why all Swedish wine is currently sold as Table Wine.

Are the ambitions to change this within the nearer future?
We should not rush it too much. It takes time to learn how to make wine. My guess is, we still need some decades before we can make Quality Wine in Sweden. Regional wine we can get within some few years.

There is no tradition of winegrowing in this country, no experience to look back to as in most other wine nations... You are practically starting from zero.Which grape varieties are working here in the north and how are those picked? Is there any one (or several) leading grape variety?
There are some grape varieties that have proven to do really well here in Sweden. The green one is Solaris and the black one is Rondo.

Are there first results confirming that certain grapes really work fine up here, or is most still experimenting?
Both, Solaris and Rondo have achieved high scores at awards both in Sweden and Danmark. To me this looks like we are on the way to establish a standard.

What quantity (hl) of Swedish wine is made today (grown and produced here, that is)?
Between 500-1000 hl.

Is it increasing quickly? Are there prognoses for the next 10, 20, 50 years?
Yes, it is increasing quickly. My guess is it is doubling per year for the next 10 years.

Are there any contests where Swedish wines have been tasted by qualified panels?
Swedish wines have been judged by leading sommeliers in Sweden and Danmark, but so far there are no international awards.

Which wines have earned prizes so far? Is there any 'leading winery' in the country or is it more balanced and prizes are shared among a few?
One leading winery is Klagshamns Vingård in Malmö. We are very happy to have started a cooperation with them and all their wines are today produced at our winery in Åhus.

Picture: Murat Sofrakis, Klagshamns vingården (from Aftonbladet)

Is a Swedish wine typically expensive? Can you name a price-range for a bottle 75 cl?
The price for a bottle ranges from 200 SEK (ca 20 €) and 400 SEK (ca 40 €).

What is your own personal favorite Swedish wine - could you please even describe it for us?
My favorite is a white wine from Solaris that has been fermented in stainless steal tanks. It had undergone cold maceration during 24 hours and has a wonderful fresh taste. We have not yet launched it on the market, but had the pleasure to taste it at the winery.

Well, and I had the pleasure to taste last year's (vintage 2008) rosé and really liked it very much! It was nicely fresh with good acidity and had nice raspberry aromas, I still remember those.

Thank you, Ronny, for your time. I am looking forward to our next interview about your winery which is very special in several aspects.

2 comments:

  1. Fascinating interview. I wrote something a few months ago about the emerging wine country Poland and I was heavily criticized by a Polish wine journalist. But your interview backs my position. Sweden is even more up in the north. And Danish wines are entering the German market already.

    http://www.schiller-wine.blogspot.com/2009/10/wine-region-poland.html

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  2. Thank you Christian. I will read your Poland post too. Regarding the Danish wines: yes, and I have the pleasure to have met two really nice winemakers from DK. Both have been here for our winefest (will report about that later) and one I have already visited. A 'little' Chateau style (big) house with top-of-the-line winery. Sören is his name, and he makes a red wine of which I am convinced about that we will hear about in some years to come...
    And despite the critical voices (like what you have heard from Poland): I am simply impressed by the enthusiasm and the determination!

    I do believe in Scandinavian wines, even if we all know it still takes a while (as Ronny says himself!).

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