There is nothing new about Swedish wine. Fruit and berry wines have been around for years. And Swedish wine maker Åkessons has been producing a popular sparkling wine from French grapes since 1985. But wine made from grapes grown in Sweden? Now that is something new.
Lauri Pappinen is the founder and owner of Gutevin on the island of Gotland, off the south-east coast of Sweden. His is one of a handful of commercial vineyards in Sweden. “Gute came about after I dreamed I was walking in a vineyard in Gotland in the summer of 1991,” he says.
One grape short of a harvest
“In 1995, we bought a property on the island and two years later started to experiment with planting vines. There is a fine line between genius and madness, and people clearly thought I was no genius.”
In October 2002, Pappinen gathered his first successful harvest, proving his doubters wrong. “We have been expanding ever since and now have more vines, a restaurant and a guesthouse on site. More importantly, fewer people on this island think I’m crazy,” he says.
And not just people on the island, it seems. His success has proved something of a spur for other wannabe vintners in Sweden. Like Gunnar Dahlberg, owner and winemaker at Wannborga Vin on the island of Öland, south-west of Gotland.
“I had always dreamed of owning a vineyard, but it’s difficult in Sweden,” he says. “There is a lot of bureaucracy and not much information on growing grapes in this climate. I visited Gute on Gotland and got some good advice on how to deal with both, especially on growing grapes. You have to be really dedicated to succeed in Sweden.”
Feeling the squeeze
Today there are only three or four commercial vineyards operating in Sweden. “The problem is three-fold,” Dahlberg explains. “First, geographically, you can only grow grapes here, on Gotland and around the southern coast. Second, it’s so difficult to get permission from the state to make wine. Third, once you have made it, it’s extremely difficult to sell.”
Pappinen is particularly vocal on the last point. “For a small producer, selling through the state monopoly, Systembolaget, is a financial disaster. The system is geared to large volumes. It’s nearly impossible to get your wine onto the shelves, meaning it is left in Systembolaget's special order catalog, which nobody reads.”
To combat this problem both Pappinen and Dahlberg have set up vineyard restaurants, using them as the main outlet for their wines.
Light in the tunnel
Despite these restrictions, Dahlberg believes the future of Swedish wine could be bright. “Apart from commercial vineyards like ours, there are 50 to 100 vineyards across the south of Sweden right now. Most only produce wine for family and friends, but there is potential.”
The question is whether these wines are any good. Most are made with unfamiliar cold-climate grape varieties – a glass of Madeleine Angevine 7672, anyone? And even allowing for climate change, Sweden still lies a long way north of what is considered "too far north" to make wine.
Despite widespread skepticism, Wannborga Vin is optimistic about the future of Swedish wine. Photo: Gunnar Dahlberg
Up for a challenge
Gunilla Hultgren, the resident wine expert at Swedish daily Expressen, is not convinced. “I haven’t tasted that many Swedish wines because I don’t think the climate here is suitable for making good wines. Among those I have tasted, all I can say – and this is being polite – is that they are harsh. There is a vineyard called Blaxsta, which makes a fabulous dessert wine. But at the price they charge, is it worth it?” (See facts below.)
It seems Swedish winemakers have a struggle on their hands, against a number of foes. Still, if they wanted the easy life, they would probably have set up shop further south. Or, as Pappinen puts it: “Making wine in Sweden is not the easiest of jobs. That’s what makes it so much fun.”
- Estimated commercial production of wine in Sweden: 12.5 hectares of vines – about 92,000 bottles
- Estimated commercial production of wine in France: 950,000 hectares of vines – about 7 billion bottles
- Recommended northern limit for wine production: 50 degrees latitude
- Degrees latitude of Öland (north–south): 57.4–56.5
- Degrees latitude of Gotland (north–south): 58–57
- Price per liter of Blaxsta vineyards’ Vidal Ice Wine: SEK 1,924 (USD 265)
- Price per liter of the 2004 Hubertushof Riesling Eiswein Leiwener Klostergarten from Germany (recommended by Swedish wine writer Jens Dolk as the best dessert wine offered by Systembolaget): SEK 424
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Rob Hincks is a British freelance writer and editor living in Sweden.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
© Photos 1 and 2: Tobias Wallström/Scanpix
© Photo 3: Jan E Carlsson/Pressens bild
© Photo 4: Gunnar Dahlberg
This article is also available in:
Published by the Swedish Institute on www.sweden.se. All content is protected by Swedish copyright law. The text may be reproduced, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast in any media for non-commercial use with reference to www.sweden.se. However, no photographs or illustrations may be used. For more information on general copyright and permission click here. If you have any questions please contact webmaster.