A good glass of arctic wine? How the climate crisis is pushing vineyards further north
Global warming has been “a driving factor” in the expansion of vineyards in one of the coldest places in the world.
As the climate crisis drives up global average temperatures, it is already well understood that winegrowers in countries like England could benefit from growing seasons that replicate conditions once seen in regions like Champagne in northern France. .
But what is perhaps less well recognized is the scale of the march north, and how not only the weather but also new varieties of grapes are helping to bring viticulture to regions better known for their snowy and icy winters, as stable conditions usually preferred for vineyards.
Sweden, Norway and Finland – which each have Arctic provinces – and Denmark have all witnessed the establishment of thriving wineries in recent years, and experts say the sector is growing rapidly.
Last month, scientists from the Finnish Meteorological Institute said the Arctic was now warming four times faster than the rest of the world. This process is due to a phenomenon known as “Arctic amplification”, in which melting sea ice allows more sunlight to be absorbed by darker water, resulting in less ice sea level and further warming of the ocean. It also interacts with changing atmospheric moisture content and airflows, which together rapidly alter weather patterns in the Arctic and other northern regions.
Meanwhile, Spanish winemakers have been hit hard by drought and scorching heat waves, which have led to an early harvest and forced workers to pick grapes at night when it’s cool enough to work.
In Northern Europe, Sweden is the first Scandinavian country to push the limits of what is possible in viticulture.
Henrik Edval, co-founder of Nordic Vineyards, a marketplace for wines produced in Scandinavia, and in particular those grown in Sweden, said The Independent the past two decades had seen a boom in production, particularly of the hardy Solaris grape, used for white wines.
He said: “Sweden has been, despite its very cool climate in this context, an official wine country since 1999. Twenty years later things have started to move significantly, several different grape varieties are grown and Sweden has, with Solaris, got its own ‘grape.
“The Swedish vineyard covers a total of 100 to 150 hectares and [the sector] growing by 10 to 20% per year.
He added: “Many grapes adapted to the climate of the Nordic countries ripen early and new grapes are constantly being introduced.
Global warming has been “a driving factor” in opening more vineyards, Edval said, with warmer temperatures helping grapes ripen and produce better wines.
But also the increased availability of grapes that ripen earlier in the year has been a crucial part of how it is increasingly possible to grow vines in Scandinavia.
Talking about the size of the market, Mr. Edval said: “As of autumn 2020, there were around 30 established wine producers in Sweden, of which just under ten are slightly larger.
“Most commercial vineyards are growing rapidly and for 2022 a forecast of another 40 to 50 hectares is being planted.
“Most of the wine is still consumed in the countries of origin,” he said, but the market has seen a “sharp increase” in demand from mainland Europe, Asia and especially the United States. Japan.
“As production and winemaking increase, we expect growing demand from outside Sweden over the next few years.
In addition to red wines and dry white wines, the climate lends itself to the production of “ice wine” – an expensive type of desert wine that is largely made in Canada and Germany, and in which the grapes can be frozen while still on the vine.
In this method of production, the grape must is pressed while the fruit is still frozen, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated and very sweet juice. With icewines, freezing occurs before fermentation, not after, as in other sweet wines like Sauternes or Tokaj.
Professor Anna Mårtensson, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, said The Independent that viticulture was developing rapidly in Sweden.
“Sweden has an EU permit to cultivate 100 hectares, but I guess the area is now doubled, to 200 hectares.
She said that while many “producers try to emulate German/French wine”, many “have not also realized the potential of icewine culture”.
“It’s not very often nowadays that you have icewine conditions in Germany for example. This market is small but icewine is very expensive, so it doesn’t matter if you have a small production.”
Asked how long it will take until our climate-ravaged world means we’re sipping wine made in the Arctic Circle, Mr Edval said: “Chances are that as the climate changes and new grapes are introduced, as well as [more] hectares being cultivated, we will see greater production.
“There is also a difficult situation in southern Europe with the drought which has led to poor harvests. There will be no shortage of European wine in the years to come, but there will certainly be new growing wine regions.