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Sneaking a peak at Sweden's burgeoning wine industry

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Sneaking a peak at Sweden's burgeoning wine industry
10:19 CEST+02:00
While perhaps best known as the home of Absolut vodka, Sweden also boasts a growing selection of wineries, food blogger Maia Brindley Nilsson discovers.

It's true! There is actually a Swedish wine industry – developing quietly and steadily in some of our own Nordic neighborhoods.

If this realization leads you to daydreams of lazy afternoon wine tastings at a charming local vineyard – think again.

Due to Sweden's stringent regulations this is not as easy as one would hope.

My first introduction to the Swedish wine industry came this summer when I was browsing for a bottle of rosé at the local liquor store and happened to notice a lovely, slim bottle of Interkardinal ‘vin från Sverige'.

Although it was a little less wine (50cl) for comparatively more money (but still only 98 kronor -- $14.70), I was intrigued.

Wine from Sweden? I had no idea.

In fact, there are 36 vineyards listed as members in the Swedish wine grower's association, Svenska Vinodlare.

Most of them are located in the nation's southern region of Skåne and range from hobby growers to more commercial operations as far north as the Gute Vingård located on the island of Gotland.

Isn't Sweden too far north to produce quality wine grapes, you ask?

Although 50° N has been traditionally considered the northernmost latitude for successful vineyards, and vineyards in Sweden range from 55-57 ° N, the climate is changing.

The warmth is creeping northward and grape varieties are being developed specifically for climates like that of southern Scandinavia.

According to sommelier and journalist, Ann Janson, the most common green grape variety in Sweden today is Solaris while the most common red is Rondo. Janson believes there is real promise for Swedish wines.

“The Swedish white wines have a fresh and crispy style which is possible to produce because the grapes naturally keep a high acidity level thanks to the cooler climate,” she explains.

“This is harder to get in regions and countries were the climate is becoming too warm.”

Rather than trying to compete with the already established wine-making regions, Annette Ivarsson of Arilds Vingård also believes the success of Swedish wines will be found in matching the right variety of grape with the temperature variations of the cool southern Scandinavian climate.

She believes the Solaris variety that was developed in Germany is key to producing high quality Swedish white wine and that Chardonnay grapes can be successfully used to produce a sparkling wine of higher acidity.

Arilds Vingård is also working with Pinot Noir although Ivarsson admits that due to the climate “it will be harder for Swedish vintners to make full-bodied red wines.”

But that's not to say it can't be done.

My visit with Jeppe and Nina Appelin at Vejby Vingård, a small 2,000 vine operation, was inspiring.

They aim to be an organic vineyard that produces “distinctively Scandinavian” wines.

As Nina stated, “our vines have now finished their fifth growing season which means they are now mature enough for quality wine production.”

So far they have been experimenting with test wines of the red varieties Regent, Cabernet Colognes, and Cabernet Vineta.

This young, architect couple aim to keep everything done manually from harvesting the grapes to stomping them by foot in the old tradition. They even have plans to eventually age their wines in Swedish oak barrels.

For me, that combination of elements is intriguing and something worth paying a little extra for when the times comes.

And based on their first test vintage of a 2009 Regent (they aren't licensed commercially yet so it was possible for me to try their test wines), I am enthusiastic for the day they officially open to visitors and to see what emerges from Vejby Vingård's traditional methods.

While current laws don't allow for any bottles of wine in Sweden to be sold outside of the state-controlled Systembolaget, there are options to support locally-grown wines.

There are a handful of Swedish wineries that have restaurants on-site where you can try their wines by the bottle or glass and potentially pay a fee for a wine-tasting.

Unfortunately you can't buy any bottles to take away with you.

In July 2010, Systembolaget announced that Swedish beverage producers would be able to sell their products in the three stores nearest their production site. Additionally, all Swedish products available within the Systembolaget system are listed in the special order catalog and can be ordered with no additional shipping cost.

On separate occasions I asked my local Systembolaget for opinions of the two Swedish wines they stocked. The replies were not entirely encouraging.

I was told that although they are good wines, you could get something of the same quality for a much lower cost.

While that may be true, it seems reasonable to spend slightly more to support an intriguing local wine industry.

In addition, a Swedish wine is a unique option to present to your friends as a gift or to guests at your table. I'm pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my bottle of Swedish rosé.

So when can you expect to be able to make that wine tasting trip to the Swedish vinvägen (wine road)?

Time will tell.

As we wait for the laws to change, the vines are maturing, which is a good thing. Let's just hope the wait isn't so long that a promising industry fades into a romantic memory.

Maia Brindley Nilsson is a designer and food enthusiast based in Malmö, Sweden. Her food blog semiswede is "sort of about Sweden, and sort of not."

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