Lillian here, from New York. Despite the continuing summer heat, I am here to talk about the cold. Cold weather is not really the background imagery for romantic winemaking. In fact, many people doubt the cold climate of Wisconsin could set the scene for grape growing; and I am often met with intense skepticism when people hear of my father’s hobby.
However, I am here to introduce the reality of cool-climate grapes, by talking about some places I know which are colder or similarly cold to Wisconsin, and have brave “cold-hearted” people producing good wine.
To set the scene:
- A few years ago, I merrily completed my Masters in the north of England (we all are aware of the famous English “summer”, no?).
- I also had the luck to meet a handful of fantastic Norwegians and traveled to Norway as well (need I remind people where Norway is located? The Arctic.).
- Though we Sconnies cannot boast any arctic acreage, Norway has a familiar feel to Wisconsin (aka. snow)
These places all share the common denominator of being (a) places of which I am very fond and (b) places which are very cold, but also places boasting one last similarity (c) :
A growing popularity in cool climate winemaking.
A grapevine is a flowering plant that produces fruit. Being perennial, a planter must be aware of a vine’s adaptability to its coolest possible survival zone (and it’s warmest). The ability of your vine to survive will be determined by your region’s year-round climate/temperatures as well as the length of your average growing season.
Agricultural zone ratings are assigned to specific land regions, determined by minimum temperatures and other factors. A hardiness zone categorizes plants’ resilience to temperature ranges, as shown here.
This website lets you click on parts of the world to show their hardiness zone numbers.
Of course, there is more to hardiness zone ratings to determine planting capacity than temperature. As a Winemaker Magazine author, Melanie Wilse, describes “within each general zone, every property has its own unique adjustment factors based on wind protection, altitude (frost settles in low-lying areas first), available sunlight, and proximity to a body of water”.
But I will here focus on hardiness and clime. Below are the hardiness zone maps of the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States.
Now let’s travel down from the Arctic and briefly explore these cold places, to prove that cool-climate winemaking is possible!
Norway (3a to 9b scale): Building a Community of Vindyrkere
At parallel 60, there is the city of Rodeløkke, Norway, home to grape-growers and amateur “Viking” winemakers, Betsy and Olav Heen. This couple founded the “Les Compagnons de Rodeløkka” (much like the group my father belongs to, The Wisconsin Vintner’s Association) in an interesting way.
They began growing with a robust French grape (probably from the Loire) and planted it in their yard. However, Betsy and Olav did not have enough sun-drenched space for the vines to grow. The two began walking around to neighbors and asking if they fancied growing a vine in their own yards in the sun. And they revolutionized what community could mean in the northerly, cold town of Rodeløkke:
Winemaking means a lot for the good neighborly relations here in Rodeløkka. It is a topic of conversation throughout the year, and it is very good to have such a project together. There is nobody who would have thought of forming a cooperative neighborhood for making currant juice. But if you make wine, you have no choice but to cooperate, he said.
The most northern vineyard in Norway is the Lerkekåsa vineyard in Telemark county at 59.4 degrees north, 100 meters above sea-level. Wenche Hvattum and Joar Sættem produce Eventyvin (translated to “fairytale wine”) in a region that used to be covered in glaciers (resulting in some pretty mineral-rich soil).
They began their vineyard with only 25 vines in 2006, moving up to 400 in 2008 and now the couple cares for 1,700 vines. In their first winter, the couple saw half their plants perish after temperatures reached 30 below (Celsius); they bought more crops but the next year, 90% of their first crop died. This didn’t deter them in their extreme hobby, however and they continue to grow:
“In January 2013 we have just tested our 2011 white wine from the Solaris grape. Conclusion: Impressive and promising. The vines are still young, and the harvest small. We look forward to the coming seasons!”
An NRK article in 2009 explained that the production of wine took place in the kitchen and laundry room (sounds similar to our home), but visitors are welcome to stay in housing on vineyard and explore the area (they also seem to have a huge barrel that one could actually sleep in).
England (8a to 10a) : France’s New Nightmare??
At parallel 50, England is no stranger to wines and grapes (the Romans brought it to the country 2000 years ago, after all), but homemade wine and national winemaking is a popular past-time. Scotland is recently producing Reislings and a number of Rose’s are produced in Yorkshire, Sussex and Wales.
According to a Telegraph article, a Sussex winemaker won an award for the best sparkling wine in the world a few years back. And in 2013, the Duchess of Cornwall actually called for English vintners and winedrinkers to put their heads together and think up a name for English sparkling wine in an effort to “match the grandeur of champagne” – a far cry from Peter Ustinov’s judgment of English wine:
“I imagine hell like this – Italian punctuality, German humour and English wine.”
Now, Andrew Neathers, a wine critic confirms that the popular English Nyetimber has far more to offer than Moet Imperial (a mass marketed Champagne).
As of 2013, Britain laid claim to approx 3,706 acres of commercial vineyards (up from 1,880 acres in 2004). English grape varieties include Dornfelder, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Rondo (reds) and Seyval Blanc, Siegerrebe, Schönburger, Reichensteiner, Ortega, Müller-Thurgau/Rivaner, Huxelrebe, Chardonnay and Bacchus (white).
Also popular in England, probably more than many other places, are what is known as “country wine” which means wine made from fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
But there remains no question that amateur homebrewing is a popular past time across England, Scotland and Wales.
The National Association of Wine and Beermakers (the primarily organization in England bringing together individuals involved in amateur wine and beermaking) draws from dozens upon dozens of clubs across the country, including
Buckhurst Hill Wine and Beer Circle, Comberton Winemakers, Faversham Winemakers Guild, Wine Association of North Durham (shout out!), Hutton Wine Circle, Hull & District Winemakers Guild, Shrewsbury Wine Circle, Tunbridge Wells Winemakers Circle, White Lion Wine & Beer Guild, and Wickford Wine & Beer Circle (to name a small handful).
The names of Arcadian English shires should tantalize you Angofiles out there, so I hope you draw upon your love for ale and re-orient favo(u)rably towards English “wíne “!
But, there is no question, it is either the British love for their own brew or an increasing realization that they truly do have what it takes to face down the French, because, apparently, English homemade wine is good enough to steal.
Wisconsin (3b to 6a): Wine and the Outdoors
At parallel 45, Wisconsin can claim a number of table grape varieties, we also have numerous grape varieties that can grow here and produce wine. This includes Foch, St. Croix, Frontenec, Leon Millot, Marquette, Baltica, Petite Pearl (lots of French sounds) for red; La Crecent, La Crosse, St Pepin, Frontenac gris, Briana for white. Remember the Godfather of Midwest winemaking, Elmer Swenson? Well, thanks to him and others, cold-climate grapes are possible here in this state.
The thing that Wisconsin wineries do well is locating themselves in beautiful places so that you can constantly engage in outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, kayaking, and biking while traveling around to our numerous winery locations (and in the winter, you can cross country ski and snow shoe before coming back to a good ole glass of Sconnie Red). And thanks to a growing love of homebrew and farm-to-table initiatives, affection for Wisconsin wine is growing.
I will keep the Wisconsin section to a minimum, because this entire blog will be filled with information on Wisconsin wine (as I am sure you are aware).
Though climate change will, of course, not only affect wine making and drinking globally, but certainly the fate of the cold-climate grape, now is the perfect time to start celebrating coldweather winemakers.
There is a certain romanticism about these “cold-hearted” amateurs (and professionals) who exert their concerted effort in making this unique artistry a (highly drinkable) reality, despite the frost and snowmen. I look forward to drinking a glass of Wisconsin wine (or maybe some English or Norwegian), wrapped in a woolen blanket and enjoying our frosty 3b hardiness grade.
But in the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the sun and warmth that makes possible my cold-hearted wine drinking!