The Wine Gardens of Sweden
Many would be surprised to hear about wine in Sweden. In fact, the country is mostly known as the home of Absolut Vodka. As early as the 15th century, the inhabitants of the country have been distilling spirits they used to call “bränvin,” which literally translates to “burnt wine.” It was initially used for making gun powder and as a medical disinfectant among others. The trend bloomed, and by the 17th century, Swedish vodka had established itself as the national drink of the country.
It was only a few more years when the climate shifted in the Swedish territories, meriting more favorable conditions for viticulture. Small-scale vineyards mushroomed in the southern and northern parts of the country. This set a new trend in the consumption and production of Swedish alcoholic beverages, which in turn, bred an elegant wine lifestyle in numerous social groups.
The Fruits of Sweden’s Climate
The earliest production of wine can be traced back to the Medieval Warm Period when the climate was still mild and warm in the North Atlantic Region. The friendly weather allowed monasteries to build vineyards in Sweden, hand in hand with the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church.
Thereafter, the climate in the country took a rather critical turn. It was generally too harsh for viticulture. Sweden still produced wine, but from no more than imported grapes. It was only in the mid to late 1990s when the Swedes got back to making wine from locally grown varietals.
While other countries experienced the negative effects of climate change, Swedish farmers turned to the nation’s sunny regions, which fostered the healthy growth of wine grapes. Vitis Vinifera, a vine native to the Mediterranean and central European regions, now produces over 5,000 grape varieties naturally grown in Sweden. In the southern parts of the country, farmers take full advantage of the added 25% daylight from the Mediterranean summer climate, which results in fully matured grapes with an appealing balance between sweetness and acidity.
Surprisingly, even in the colder regions some have found the weather to be still hospitable for grape growing. They get less sunlight than other European wine producers, but the climate is cold enough to drive away insects and resist mold. Consequently, this paved way for the Swedes to create what they call “ice wine,” a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The frozen water in the grapes preserves the natural sugars, resulting in a sweet beverage.
The Wine Spots of Skane
As a member of the European Union, Sweden’s acquiescence of the European Wine regulations shaped the economy and culture of wine in the territory. Despite its flourishing viticulture, Sweden’s total commercial vineyards stay below 250 acres, also limiting its wine production to table wines. Unless you have a restaurant, owners are also not allowed to sell wines at their vineyards. All wines must be sold through Systembolaget—a monopoly owned by the Swedish government, operating under the objective of minimizing alcohol-related problems by controlling the wine trade.
Some winemakers found a way to go around it, selling their wares via internet Wine Shops. Others took their vineyards to another level, making use of agricultural tourism to foster interest and perhaps worldwide appreciation. Tourists and wine aficionados do visit the country for its wine tours in the region of Skane, also known as “Scania County”.
The most popular vineyards are located in southern areas of Sweden, ranging from hobby growers to commercial operations, making them the nation’s fastest rising wine regions. Skane has over 30 vineyards complementing its peripheral Scanian castles, restaurants, and world class golf courses. By the Baltic coastline, German-hybrid grapes like Solaris and Rondo are grown. They produce a plethora of fruity whites and full bodied reds.
A Tour of Sweden’s Vineyards
A wine tour is often mixed with other activities, such as golf, a trip to the spa, snorkeling in streams, riding Icelandic horses, climbing tall cliffs, or a walk through a majestic castle. No selling happens on a tour. Instead, guests get to sample the vineyard’s best wines and hear the owner’s tales for each bottle.
The Åhus Vingård, located at Skane’s east coast, has over 3,000 vines that include the Solaris, Rondo, and Leon Millot grape varieties. A tour of the vineyard starts with a delightful seafood lunch at the Rokeriet, followed by a stroll through its neatly lined grapevines, and then ending with wine-tasting at the vineyard pergola. The Åhus Vingård, boasts of its renowned Solaris White Wine, which won the 2010 award for the “Best Swedish Wine.” It is run by Ronny and Gunilla Persson, as the vineyard garners over a thousand visitors annually.
The Blaxsta Vingård, also located in the east, is one of the largest wineries in Sweden. Owner Göran Amnegård has 2.5 hectares of over 5,500 vines – 90% of which are Vidal, and the rest being Merlot, Chardonnay, and some Cabernet Franc. Vidal grapes are used to make their famous “ice wines” that have reaped several awards. They also produce quality fruit wines from pears, wild raspberries, and apples— the latter made into Apple Ice Wine Åkerö, a particular specialty of the Blaxta Winery. They also have a restaurant called the Kung Blacke, a winery housed in a 17th century barn, and a renovated wine cellar that dates back to the 16th century.
In the west, Scania is home to prominent wineries such as the Klagshamn, owned and run by Murat Sofrakis and Lena Jörgensen, and Kullahalvön’s Vineyard. The latter offers pre-booked tours to its “young and creative vineyard,” which yields a unique experience. On top of wine tasting, some of the vineyards include a guided tour to historical sites, like the garden of the late crown prince Gustav VI Adolf, and Lady Margaret.
Compared to the other vineyards in Europe, Swedish vineyards are relatively young and small, but nevertheless flourishing. If we are to look at sales alone, Sweden is just number 13 in the world ranking of the biggest wine importers. Its vineyards and elegant wine tours, however, may move them to the top ten in the future.
Swedish Vodka and the music of Abba may have put this Scandinavian country on the radars of travelers, but for a wine aficionado, Sweden’s wine and wine tours are more than enough to make them book regular flights to the country each year.