I’ve decided to venture outside the world’s ideal 30-50 degrees latitude range for growing wine grapes. To make the situation even crazier, it’s the middle of December, it’s freezing cold, snowing and I’m wine tasting at the Ästad Vingård in Sweden. I can’t think of a better pre-Christmas trip than this!
Located an hour south of Gothenburg in the Halland region is one of Sweden’s largest vineyards, known as the Ästad Vingård (pronounced: Ay-stahd Veen-gord). Not only can this vineyard boast about its organic wines, but it is also home to a fabulous Scandi-farm-style hotel, the luxurious Sinnenas spa, two Swedish cuisine inspired restaurants (one boasting a Michelin Star) and a conference centre. You really can’t go wrong with a visit here…there’s something for everyone!
My husband and I were extremely lucky to have a private guided tour by our vineyard and wine tasting host, Helena who is the sommelier for Ästad. Her knowledge of the vines, local terroir and Solaris sparkling wines was exceptional!
Located on a former farm site, Ästad Vingård was planted with 15,000 Solaris grape vines in 2011. The vineyard site is perched on a southwest-facing hillside called Pengakullen, which in Swedish means ‘the money hill’ which is named after the small gravel-like stones found within the soil that resemble little coins. Nestled between two lakes, Alvasjön and Bayasjön, this idyllic location creates the perfect micro-climate for a Swedish vineyard because the heat retained and reflected from both the lakes and the gravel soil further help ripen the grapes in this cooler climate.
Priding itself on being organically farmed, Ästad Vingård saw its first harvest in 2014. Since then harvests have been increasingly fruitful, except for 2017’s devastating harvest which saw no fruit due to an unusually cool growing season. In order to prevent another devastating harvest, Ästad has acquired another vineyard site closer to the ocean, which offers slightly warmer growing conditions. Solaris is also planted here, along with a few experimental varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, that will hopefully prove to be successful in this rather unpredictable and unforgiving Swedish climate.
In order to combat extreme weather, the vineyard employs some clever techniques to manage the potential risk frost poses to the vines. Sensors throughout the vineyard automatically set-off sprinklers if temperatures reach 1°C. The water coats the buds that have newly formed on the vines and once frozen creates a protective barrier that insulates them from lower temperatures during the spring. Additionally, this method is also used in the later autumn after harvest to protect the vines from further frost damage. After the grapes have been removed, the canopy still provides nutrients to the rest of vine, thus enabling it to survive the harsh winter months. However, frost can damage the canopy and halt this process. Thus, if there is a threat of frost, the sprinkler system is employed to once again coat the canopy and vines, thus creating a protective ice barrier. Once thawed, the canopy can still continue nourishing the vine.
As the vineyard is organically farmed, everything used to maintain the vineyard’s health is carefully thought through. Diverse crop cover is planted along the rows to promote healthy soil diversity, as well as a way to attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Finally, biodynamic practices, such as pouring nettle water amongst the vines after harvest is performed to offer additional nourishment for the vines prior to their winter dormancy period.
Well, you know the wine is good if there isn’t very much left! This is definitely the case at Ästad Vingård. As this is a smaller, cool-climate vineyard, annual harvest weights vary with each harvest. The most successful harvest so far has been 2021, which led to a total of 31 tons; 20 tons at the Halland site and 11 tons at the newly planted coastal site. This is a huge success; however, this vineyard is all about the saying…good things come to those who wait! At the moment, all sparkling wines are vintage and several are resting on the lees. Additionally, the wine here is so popular the when bottles are offered to the public, they sell out within days! So, you better act fast if you wish to grab one!
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to try a glass of the 2016 vintage, which was really impressive. It was my first taste of a sparkling Solaris wine and I’m a huge fan, as you can see by the smile on my face!
As winemaking is a relatively newer industry in Sweden, several vineyards are relying on the expertise of Lars Torstensson, a native Swede, who has lived and worked as an extremely successful, award winning winemaker in France for many years. He is now a consultant to Ästad and is offering his invaluable expertise to ensure that the future of wine here will continue to prosper.
As most people enjoy a glass of wine with exceptional food pairings, you’re in luck at Ästad Vingård because there are two restaurants to choose from. The Logen restaurant offers exceptional Swedish cuisine with global wine pairings. Situated inside a large renovated barn, the restaurant is cozy, with fireplaces burning and lit candles creating a warm and inviting ambience. It’s a definite respite from the wintery conditions just outside!
My husband and I enjoyed a delightful selection of beautifully prepared food that was perfectly paired with a lovely selection of wines ranging from sparkling, dry to sweet.
The second option is Restaurant Äng, which has recently been awarded a Michelin Star. As this is now an extremely sought after restaurant in Sweden, you’ll have to book ahead. Äng is currently located just above the reception building; however, during the summer of 2022, it will be relocated to a glass greenhouse overlooking the lake Bayasjön.
My husband and I plan to visit again in the near future and hopefully, we will be fortunate enough to grab ourselves a booking at this Michelin Star restaurant.
If you’re after a magical vineyard experience in the Swedish countryside, then Ästad Vingård is what you’re looking for. However, don’t expect be able to try several of their wines, as there simply isn’t enough to go around! It’s a small vineyard and the wine is good. Good things sell quickly! The vineyard wines are reserved for the Restaurant Äng, which is understandable…after all, it now has a Michelin Star!
Overall, I think that the future of Ästad Vingård is extremely bright. I hope to return in a few years and taste a few more vintages of their sensational Solaris!