Swedish Merlot, anyone? Warmer world boosts Nordic tipples

Vineyards are where people expect polar bears, grower says

grapes on a vine

On one of the world’s northernmost frontiers, grapevines are growing on hillsides and talk among farmers is about “terroir” and “aroma” as global warming and new technology push the boundaries of wine growing.

“Maybe a touch of raspberry?” opined Wenche Hvattum, one of two farmers at the Lerkekasa vineyard west of Oslo — on the same latitude as Siberia, southern Greenland or Alaska — debating aromas in the ruby-red juice from their freshly pressed grapes.

“This is good. I’d say a hint of blackcurrant,” said her husband, Joar Saettem.

Such talk would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but warmer temperatures and new, cold-resistant vines are helping push wine production into Nordic countries in a rare positive spinoff from climate change.

In Blaxsta winery near Stockholm — a farm farther north than Aberdeen or Moscow — Goran Amnegard has won international awards for his ice wine based on the Vidal grape. He sells some 3,000 bottles a year to customers as far afield as Hong Kong, and proudly shows off his red Merlot wine and white Chardonnay.

“There is this myth about the cold weather here, the moose and the polar bears,” said Amnegard. “We have had more or less Mediterranean summers.”

Blaxsta won a gold at the World Wine Cup in 2012 for its 2009 Vidal Ice Wine. Financial Times wine critic Jancis Robinson gave it a “distinguished” 16.5 points out of a maximum 20.

“The tendency is… the climate is going to be warmer summers and colder winters. That seems to be the way it is heading and that will benefit us,” Amnegard said.

Crops grow better in the Nordic region than at similar latitudes elsewhere because the sea is warmed by the Gulf Stream current. A comparable latitude in the Southern Hemisphere would be far south of New Zealand, towards Antarctica.

A generation ago, the northernmost frontier for vineyards was Britain. Nowadays, the title of the world’s most northerly vineyard is a moving target.

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