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Scandinavia's Wine Scene Is Growing, Partially Due to Climate Change

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 11/25/2021 Amy Guttman
© Alamy

Outside the tasting room at Skærsøgaard Vin in southern Denmark, chemist-turned-winemaker Sven Moesgaard points to the rocky cliffs above. They were formed millions of years ago, when Denmark was considered an arctic nation. “This area was [here] in the ice ages,” he says. “The ice used to melt into the fjords and now we are making Champagne [in the very same place].”

It’s been 20 years since Moesgaard produced his first bottle of wine. Initially, he had no idea his wine production was illegal due to European Union regulations requiring countries to be certified as wine-making nations. Moesgaard eventually won permission for Denmark to produce wine in 2000, making Skærsøgaard the country’s first commercial vineyard. “To make wine here was not only something you should have laughed at, but it was also forbidden,” Moesgaard says. His wines have since won awards from around the world, in competitions as far-flung as California.

A vineyard in southern Sweden © Getty A vineyard in southern Sweden

In the last 10 years alone, the number of vineyards in Denmark has more than doubled to over 100. The trend is picking up across Scandinavian borders, too: Sweden has grown to 40 vineyards and in Norway, albeit the smallest industry of the three, there are nearly a dozen. Milder winters and summers that now stretch into September along with grapes resilient to cold have helped vineyards in the region come of age, with a changing climate on their side.

Climate experts predict in 50 years, Scandinavia’s wine-growing conditions will be more like northern France. But some weather patterns already mimic that of Champagne with cool, temperate climes, occasional spring frosts, significant rain, and warmer summers. At the same time, traditional wine-making regions like France and Spain are suffering more frequent and increasingly intense heat waves, with grapes ripening too soon and creating inconsistent flavors. Scandinavians with time and money to invest have seized the opportunity, utilizing scientifically engineered, disease-resistant grapes that thrive in northern regions, like Solaris for whites and Rondo for rosé.

Betina Newberry and her brother Tom Christensen are two such locals. They sold their family’s pig farm to build Dyrehøj, Denmark’s largest vineyard, located 70 miles west of Copenhagen. “Initially, we didn’t have anybody to ask [for advice] and many of these grapes are new varieties, so we didn’t know how to produce them,” Newberry says. They soon realized that the cooler climate was advantageous for making sparkling wines that require lower acidity. “We have perfect grapes for sparkling wines. Champagne is getting warm, so they’re struggling to get the taste, sugar, and acidity at the right balance, and we’ve got lots of acidity and little sugar.”

The interior at Noma © Ditte Isager/Courtesy Noma The interior at Noma A variety of dishes at Noma © Ditte Isager/Courtesy Noma A variety of dishes at Noma

Their first vintage was 2011, coinciding with the rise of Copenhagen restaurant Noma and the demand for new Nordic cuisine. Sommelier Peter Fagerland says Solaris, with its crisp, green notes, pairs perfectly with Danish dishes like langoustines and gooseberries. “It works really well with the Danish flavor profile [and] the herbs we use here.”

In Skåne, southern Sweden, native Tina Berthelsen established Lottenlund Estate in 2016 after a trip to Tuscany inspired her to learn viniculture. Berthelsen says the coastal conditions are perfect for producing wine. “We have a lot of light during the summer and the sea winds prevent the vines from getting too damp. We also have a later harvest from mid- to late-October, so the grapes have time to develop flavor and not just sugar.”

Scandinavia isn’t insulated from unpredictable weather but, Berthelsen says, Sweden’s climate is more forgiving. “In June, it was 90 degrees," she says. "This is very unusual. But we have less extreme heat. It’s warm in the day and then it’s cold at night, and this gives a very long-lasting taste to the grapes.”

Lottenlund Estate in Skåne, Sweden © Admir Törnros Lottenlund Estate in Skåne, Sweden

However, there are other challenges unique to the region. Nordic wines range from $25 to $70 per bottle because of higher labor costs and fewer subsidies from the European Union, as compared to other wine-making areas. Convincing consumers to spend more for local wine has been a mission for Rohan Goradia of Copenhagen wine bar Ved Stranden 10. “The price point and acidity are a challenge for customers who don’t know Danish wine, which is why it’s important for us to host food and wine pairing events to give context.”

Many vineyards don’t yet distribute beyond their local area because production is so small—to taste most of these wines, you'll need to go to the source. In Sweden, vineyards cover just under 300 acres of the country, compared to 300,000 in France. But some, like Håkan Hansson’s Hällåkra Vineyard, located 30 minutes from the southern Sweden city of Malmö, distribute wines to capital cities throughout Europe. Hansson planted vines in 2003 and reached a turning point just five years later. “We had two winemakers from Bordeaux who visited after reading about us. I was nervous, but when they tasted our wines, they said: ‘Wow, what acidity you have in the wine, we are losing that in France and Spain. Take care of that.’ He meant we should [embrace] it. And I thought–that–that’s the point of our wines.”

How to plan a trip to Scandinavian wine country

Denmark

There are vineyards throughout Denmark, though the four main wine regions are Jutland, Zealand, Funen, and Bornholm. Tastings are offered year-round, with the harvest typically in late September to early October. Skærsøgaard Vin in Jutland offers tastings by appointment. Dyrehøj Vineyard is located on the Røsnæs Peninsula, where you’ll find a handful of other vineyards and coastal paths; co-owner Betina can plan tailored experiences, and 24 local wines are on tap at their café and shop. Dragsholm Slot, a castle-turned-hotel, is home to a bistro and Michelin-starred restaurant pairing local food with Danish wine. In Copenhagen, wine bar Ved Stranden 10 features smaller producers from throughout the country.

Sweden

Thirty of Sweden’s 40 vineyards are based in the coastal region of Skåne, and though tastings are available year-round, spring to autumn is the best time to enjoy tours and outdoor dining options. The atmospheric port city of Helsingborg makes a good base and the Clarion Grand Hotel is well located. Hällåkra Vineyard offers wine tastings and meals in their garden café. Meanwhile, wine and gin experiences can be booked at Lottenlund Estate, where there’s a shop stocked with home-grown products. In Malmö, round out your trip at the Swedish Wine Center, which serves flights of regional wine.

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