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.

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 rarely practised 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 winegrowers. 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.
By Jan Aagaard. Focus Denmark

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