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winegrowing at the northern limit - The art of the possible

The number of professional Danish winegrowers is increasing, as is the quality of Danish wine. “It is interesting to produce wine at the limit of where it is possible from a purely climatic perspective,” says one of the Danish winegrowers, who has gained an export order to Japan.

By Jan Aagaard. Focus Denmark no 3, 2012

wine Just 15 minutes drive from the centre of Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, one is met with a sight that one wouldn’t expect to find in these northerly latitudes. In the suburb of Avedøre, with its mix of built-up areas, meadows and fields, an unusual form of vegetation springs forth.

A belt of tightly packed trees conceals it: a plantation of vines with light green leaves, row upon row, about 9,000 vines altogether, stretching over three hectares of land. It is mid October, and the grapes have just being picked and pressed. The grape juice has been poured into large steel tanks, where the fermentation process is slowly beginning. Before long, the grape sugar will be converted to alcohol and the grape juice will become wine, which is stored in French oak barrels or steel tanks, depending on the type of wine being produced.

Many Danes are themselves surprised that wine can be grown in Denmark. But the interest in winegrowing is gathering pace; over the last decade it has grown from being a rarelypractised hobby to a small but thriving business in Denmark. Today there are some 55 commercial winegrowers around the country and the professional winegrowers have recently organised themselves in an industry association, Danske Vingårde (Danish Vineyards).

“It is fun to be an entrepreneur in a young business, where we become more competent with each year that passes. But to venture into it requires a great passion for wine and wine production,” says the association’s chairman Jan  Nyholmgaard.

Wine production at the northern limit
Founded in 1999, Dansk VinCenter in Avedøre was one of the first vineyards to be established in Denmark. Just three years later, it marketed its first 7,000 bottles of wine under the name ‘Nordlund’. The centre was founded by Torben Andreasen, who previously ran a market garden in the area. He has always had a great interest in wine and decided, together with a local wine enthusiast who had leased some part of the land to experiment with vines, to establish one of the first commercial vineyards in Denmark.

Today, the previous partner has established a separate vineyard, while Torben Andreasen, his family, and some part-time employees continue to run Dansk VinCenter.

“We produce wine at the limit of where it is possible from a purely climatic perspective, and this is what makes it so interesting. When we started, many people told us that it was impossible to produce wine in Denmark, but we set out to prove them wrong and in the last 10 years we have produced between 2,000 and 7,000 bottles per year,” says Torben Andreasen, while we stand between the vine rows and enjoy the autumn afternoon sun.


New grape varieties for the Danish climate
The reason why wine can increasingly be produced in Denmark is not, as one might think, to do with climate change. It is due the development of new grape varieties which are suited to the Danish climate and ripen early.

Dansk VinCenter primarily cultivates the red grape Rondo, which is one of the widely used varieties among Danish  inegrowers. Other red varieties cultivated include Castel, Regent and Leon Millot, which are all used in Nordlund wine and the second-string wine, Lillelund. This year, the vineyard has also planted a few white grape varieties, Johanitter, Solaris, Orion, and Zalas Perle, in order to conduct future experimental production of white wine and sparkling wine.

“Many see a great future in Danish sparkling wine, so we are also having a go with it,” says Torben Andreasen. He doesn’t think there is any point in comparing Danish wines with wines from the great wine-producing countries of southern Europe.

“We make wines from completely different varieties of grape, which give Danish wine a special character. We are pioneers in vine cultivation. Our aim is not to make the same wine each year, but to make interesting wine each year. We experiment continuously,” says Torben Andreasen. While Torben and his family do much of the work in the vineyards – assisted by many volunteer grape pickers to harvest the crop – the production of the wine itself is done by an experienced
Danish oenologist who has trained in France.

Necessary sidelines
Dansk VinCenter is seeing mounting interest in its wine production from both domestic and foreign guests who visit the vineyard. Visitors are typically shown around the plantation and winery, after which they have wine tasting in the wine cellars which contain over 7,000 bottles of the vineyard’s own production, plus wines from some other Danish vineyards.

There are many other activities at Dansk VinCenter: wine dinners, cooking classes, and corporate events in collaboration with external players, training and guidance on wine production, and sales of vines, wine barrels and naturally, wine.

“All these associated activities keep the business going. One can’t make a living purely by making and selling Danish wine, and so most Danish winegrowers offer guided tours round the vineyard and have shops and so on. Vineyards are little tourist attractions in themselves, which form the basis for events and tourism in small local communities,” says Torben Andreasen.

180 bottles for Japan
According to the chairman of Danske Vingårde, only between five and ten Danish winegrowers have full-time wine production. He himself is one of them with his four year old vineyard, which he and his wife established on the island of Funen after they had sold their cleaning company. The business has not broken even yet, but Jan Nyholmgaard believes in the project and has a positive outlook on commercial Danish wine production.

Torben Andreasen in Avedøre has the same opinion. Like most winegrowers, he sells his wine primarily to Danish restaurants, among them the world-renowned Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, and to visitors to the vineyard. Dansk VinCenter recently succeeded in gaining an export order, and the first 180 bottles of Nordlund 2008 was sent in October to Japan, where thecustomer is Tokyo’s trend-setting department store Isetan.

“Danish wine will never be a major export activity. It will always be a niche product, like Danish speciality foods. But we make some interesting and different products, which challenge conventional ideas on what Denmark can offer,” says Torben Andreasen.

Three Danish wine producers - abroad

His Royal Highness Prince Henrik, Château de Cayx Cahors

Prins Henrik The most well-known winemaker in Denmark is without doubt HRH Prince Henrik. The Prince consort comes from the Cahors district of France, where in 1974 Queen Margrethe and the Prince consort acquired Château de Cayx, which has roots back to the 15 century.

Prince Henrik carried out a sensitive restoration of the castle and, since he has a strong interest in wine (his father and grandfather also cultivated vines in Cahors), he decided to recreate the castle’s ancient, prestigious vineyards.

The vineyards have gradually been replanted and today cover more than 21 hectares, which have mostly been planted with malbec. In addition, Merlot, Tannat and Chardonnay, which traditionally form part of the Cahors wine, are grown on small plots.

Prince Henrik produces the red wines Château de Cayx, La royale, Gobelins, Les Marches de Cayx, Le Malbec de Cayx, the white wine La Cigaralle and the rosé wine Le Rosé du Prince de Danemark.
Prince Henrik often serves his wines at official events held at the Royal House including birthdays and Christenings.

Peter Sisseck, Hacienda de Monasterio Ribera del Duero

Peter SisseckPeter Sisseck is reckoned to be among the world’s best wine producers and is the maker of the cult wine Dominio de Pingus – one of the most expensive Spanish wines. Peter Sisseck has also wrought a minor revolution in Spanish wine production, where he has introduced new methods and ideas in recent years, primarily in Ribera del Duero, an area in north-west of Spain where Pingus is also produced.

Peter Sisseck’s interest in wine is family-connected. He took an apprenticeship with his uncle Peter Vinding-Diers, who for more than four decades was a highly regarded winemaker in Bordeaux.

Having graduated in agronomics in Copenhagen and worked at vineyards in both Europe and the US, Peter Sisseck settled in Spain in 1990, when he was employed as head of the Hacienda de Monasterio vineyard, which he is still heading.

During his work at Hacienda de Monasterio in Ribera del Duero, Peter Sisseck’s dream of making his own wine blossomed, and in 1995 he began producing Pingus (the name originates from Peter Sisseck’s nickname ’Ping’) based on Tempranillo grapes from a 4.2 hectare plot in La Horra in the Ribera del Duero district.

Since then, Peter Sisseck has regularly acquired fields around Dominio de Pingus and today also makes the Flor de Pingus wine from fields in La Horra, and the micro cuvée Amelia, which is based on vines that are more than 100 years old.

Together with various partners, Peter Sisseck has also launched other projects in the Duero area and is now making wines such as PSI, Quinta Sardonia and Q2 Sardonia.

Hans Vinding-Diers, Tenuta di Argiano Toscana

Hans Vinding-DiersA son of the legendary Danish winemaker Peter Vinding-Diers (and a cousin to Peter Sisseck), it is no surprise that Hans Vinding-Diers also became involved in world-class wine production, although he originally dreamed of doing something completely different and becoming a theatre producer.

Hans Vinding-Diers makes wines in Italy at the famous Brunello vineyard Tenuta di Argiano, which is owned by his partner countess Noemi Marone Cinzano. He has also made wines in other countries, including France, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

Today, his main focus is on Argentina, where together with his partner he has bought bodega Noemia in Patagonia, whose vines date from the 1930s. The vineyard produces the red wines bodega Noemia, J. Alberto and A Lisa with Malbec as the primary type of grape. Together with an Italian colleague and friend, he is also involved in a Pinot Noir project in Patagonia – Bodega Chacra.

Is Danish wine quality wine?

“The quality of Danish wine has risen a lot in recent years. We have moved on from the time when we supplied wine in old cola bottles, and today we have professional production which is also of high quality.

The quality can easily be compared with other cold-climate areas like England and Germany, which have many more years of experience in cultivating vines. Danish wine is a curiosity, and my overseas colleagues are often surprised by its quality. To me, the white and sparkling wines are the most interesting, and those with the greatest potential for future production.”

Jesper Boelskifte, wine steward and managing director for the restaurant chain MASH, Le Sommelier and Umami in Copenhagen.