Sustainable Sips of Swedish Wine: The Bjäre Peninsula Wineries
Outside the window of our summer house in Båstad, on the Bjäre peninsula in southern Sweden, I see our next-door neighbour’s vines weaving in and out of the perforations in the fence, clusters of grapes jostling for space with the late-autumn raspberry bushes. Ah, Sweden – a place where you can trust most things, except perhaps the weather. But, with warmer temperatures, Bjäre peninsula residents have front row seats to a shift from hobby wine enthusiasts to professional, full-throttle commercial vineyards. When you think of Sweden, tech innovation, crisp vodka, sleek design, and sustainable development, might be top of mind. Not vineyards and centuries-old winemaking traditions. This is about to change as the hotter climate brings the frontier of wine to northern lands.
As an entrepreneur and startup nerd, I can’t help but draw parallels between the ongoing wine movement and the Swedish tech revolution I played a part in. When the startup culture found its legs and sprouted like wildflower, our community drew comparisons with Silicon Valley, and has gone onwards and upwards ever since. Swedish tech became synonymous with top-tier innovations, building on a legacy of visionary pioneers and industry giants who had laid the groundwork and infrastructure for the blossoming which followed. With a long-standing dedication to innovation, devotion to sustainability, and its collaborative approach, Sweden has the chance to make a mark for itself as a new, high-quality producer in the old world of wine.
The characteristics of Swedish wine
With Swedish wine being the new kid on the block, does it already have a soul of its own? How would you recognise it? Sweden ranks at the top as an environmentally friendly country. Does this extend to wine? To give our dear readers a crash course, we turned to an authority on the subject, sommelier and author, Mattias Säfwenberg. In his latest book, “Svenskt Vin – bland druvor och vingårdar”, he travels across Sweden visiting wineries, detailing the wine-making process in the unique and challenging context of a northern climate.
Mattias, tell us about Sweden as a wine country. What can we expect?
Sweden is one of the world’s youngest wine countries. It’s also part of a region that has gone from strength to strength in terms of quality despite its short history of just over twenty years as a wine-producing nation. This is quite impressive, especially considering that many vineyards do not have extensive experience and vintages under their belt, instead learning by doing.
Quality isn’t the only focus in Swedish wine cultivation; sustainability and ecological thinking are of equal importance. In Sweden, wineries predominantly use vines with higher resistance to certain fungal diseases, which also thrive in the somewhat cooler climate we have. We know these varieties as “piwi” grapes (piwi – pilzwiederstandfähig = resistant to fungi), with quite a few of them being German grapes. They require less or almost no pesticide spraying, and many vineyards follow circular reasoning, operating under sustainable and eco principles, with some being certified. This is crucial for the future, as we value sustainability and local alternatives highly in Sweden.
What about the actual wines? Is there a typical Swedish wine?
In Swedish wine production, sparkling, white, and rosé wines represent the majority, mainly because of the climate. Reds are more challenging to produce each year, as the blue grapes struggle to ripen in full. Warmer years yield better quality red wines in Sweden.
The most common and widely planted grape variety in Sweden is Solaris. It’s piwi-classified and developed in Germany in 1975. In Sweden, around three-quarters of vineyard areas feature Solaris, used for sparkling wines, dry whites, both steel tank and oak barrel aged, as well as sweet wines. In other words, a versatile grape often considered the embodiment of the “Swedish taste.”
Amid the fragrances and flavours of Solaris, you’ll find a range of our Swedish fruits and berries. Wines made from this grape are very fruity, have a good acidity and freshness, besides alcohol content that provides balance. Sometimes the wines taste like a Sauvignon Blanc, other times they evoke a Riesling, and if oak-barrel aged, it might resemble an oaked Chardonnay. The taste also varies based on the soil in which the vines grow and, of course, the winemaker’s approach and intention.
How do wine consumers react to Swedish wine?
Over the past decade, the quality of Swedish wines has improved significantly, becoming more consistent. More people find them a great complement to their meals. For almost fifteen years, I’ve conducted countless tastings and served Swedish wines to guests at restaurants for just as long. Most consider it enjoyable and pleasing to explore wines from Sweden, and the positive response is overwhelming.—-
Thank you, Mattias. We appreciate your insights, and feel excited about the future of Swedish winemaking. Next, let’s deep dive into one of the most exciting wine regions in Sweden.
The Bjäre peninsula
The region, known for the summer resorts of Båstad and Torekov, is also famous for potatoes, tennis, and now wine. But, what makes Bjäre a good terroir for winemaking?
The peninsula sits atop a ridge with its breathtaking green rolling hills that border the vast sea. A fortunate microclimate and well-drained soil help in generating high-quality produce. There are no frosts and much less hail risk, otherwise a winemaker’s nightmare. Bjäre’s unique circumstances have positioned it as Sweden’s potato district. Potatoes here are like royalty, producing Sweden’s earliest harvest with vertigo-inducing auction prices. Yet, this landscape is now experiencing a new chapter, the emergence of vineyards. Vintners are recognising the potential of these lands for cultivating wines with a dedication to innovation, sustainability, and excellence, enriching the legacy of the land.
Welcome along on our Bjäre winery tour:
Vejby Winery – Innovation through heritage
The beret-wearing Jeppe Appelin, owner and founder of Vejby Winery, the first commercial vineyard in the region, is one of those characters you never forget meeting in a lifetime. A local patriot, his talents are many. Artist, architect, entrepreneur, and now a winemaker. And I’ll add, master storyteller. You don’t leave his winery without a smile, a delightful aftertaste of orange wine and Georgian choir music echoing in your head. Let’s connect the dots.
If the Danes can do it, so can we
Jeppe worked as an architect in Copenhagen when he discovered wineries popping up in Denmark 18 years ago. Intrigued by the phenomenon, he did field research to find out they had planted green and blue grapes, including the piwi. With land he had bought earlier, he wanted to explore wine-making himself. And, not shying away from a challenge, his heart told him to go for red wine, despite all logic pointing to white for a climate like Sweden. The heart won out. He’d show the Danes it could be done further north as well, chose 5 blue grapes; Regent, Cabernet Colonjes, Cabernet Vineta, Cabernet Cortis, and Pinotin, and got to work with 2000 plants in 2007. He doubled with architectural projects to fund the winery.
“All you need is passion, energy, and endurance for a crazy project like a vineyard in Sweden”, Jeppe says, advocating for the whole region through the Bjäre Wine Country network. Regardless of the climate and the challenging factors affecting the growth of the grapes, Jeppe considers Bjäre a good region for wine, since it sees less windy and rainy conditions compared to Denmark, and has more sun. The soil used to be at the bottom of the sea, a mixture of sand and clay. He believed it would work, akin to “a dragon taking off against the wind.”
Jeppe reiterates that wine culture is created on vineyards. Hence, he’s opened up the winery for tastings, and turned harvest season into a fun local activity where 50-100 people come to help. He doesn’t want to become a one-trick pony, riding on the Solaris wave. Jeppe strives to satisfy the different palates of his visitors. He has a tremendous lust for experimentation and innovation, developing new wines every year, using a library of 25 strains of yeast, bio-dynamic methods for growing (certified by Demeter), and a multitude of storing techniques.
You can taste the sparkling Chambjierre Rosé, the Vejby Rosé, the Vejby Regent, and many more of the bottles on offer. The red wines have won a multitude of international awards. Also, the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London, awarded Gyllene Vejby, an orange wine, in 2021. The fourth wine type, after white, rosé and red, now trends all over the world. It’s made from white wine grapes where the skin and seeds remain in contact with the juice. This creates the orange or amber hue. Gyllene Vejby is a mix of two Solaris varieties with long maceration (skin contact).
Perhaps karma ordained Jeppe to make orange wine. Turns out his partner, Fariba, comes from Iran, and her family used to produce a Persian orange wine in the old days. On the palate, it’s best described as off-dry and full-bodied. Bold, with hints of honey and orange citrus. The taste had us daydreaming about autumn walks amongst the trees.
Look to the East
The orange experience made Jeppe switch his source of inspiration from the West to the East. After all, orange wine originated in the ancient wine cultures of Georgia, Armenia, and the wider Caucasus. And with that came a huge challenge. Jeppe decided to go all in and produce it in the traditional way of the East, meaning big clay amphoras, the ones you often see in museums. That’s how wine-making and fermentation got started, and it’s still how they make it in Georgia today, where grape juice becomes wine by burying it underground for the winter in qvevris, the Georgian amphora, which is an egg-shaped earthenware vessel used for producing, ageing, and storing. It’s the world’s oldest wine production process, over 8000 years old, and a UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
“God created water, man created wine,” says Jeppe, quoting Victor Hugo. “Wine demands a creative human,” he adds for good measure as we leave the bar, crossing the beautiful inner courtyard with a Victorian-style fountain, sitting space, and colourful lights hanging along the roof. We step through a creaking wooden door, and can’t believe our eyes and ears.
Jeppe has built a Marani (Georgian style wine cellar) by hand. In his quest to harvest the seeds of the new, he’s using the methods of the old, specifically nineteen 3-metre high qvevris from Georgia, weighing a ton each, all lined with beeswax. He spent ten months burying them in the ground on a raised floor. He lost 20 kilos in the process, and you have to hear the story from his mouth. The vibe from Jeppe, the entertainer, is not to be missed.
News of his East-West wine meld made it to Georgia, where he earned the Gastronomy Ambassador designation. The Georgian Orthodox Church in Stockholm helped him inaugurate the Marani. The priest-led ceremony involved a dash of Holy Water, spreading incense, and chanting sacral music. It’s now an annual event with representation from the Georgian Embassy. As we clinked glasses of orange wine together with Jeppe, Georgian church tones reverberated throughout the cellar.
Thora Winery – French Finesse on the Swedish Riviera
If you get engaged in a winery in Santa Barbara, California, chances are your future spells wine. Heather and Johan Öberg turned passion for food and wine into a Swedish winery where quality takes precedence over all. The couple’s ambitions for Thora are sky high and they have the right team to make it happen. Playfulness, professionalism, and perspicacity will pave the way to great success.
From hobby to professional vineyard
To our surprise, Heather and Johan bought the land on the western end of the Bjäre peninsula with no plans for winemaking. As they toured the property, they realised it had the right conditions for growing grapes, and even before they built the house, 300 vines of Pinot Noir saw the light of day. Both love red wine, Pinot Noir the preferred choice, since Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon wouldn’t work with the Swedish climate.
For Heather, wine-making has been part of her childhood, where her father, a biochemist, had it as a hobby. She helped stomp the grapes, and somehow the interest lay dormant, waiting to be unleashed in a scaled-up capacity. For Johan, the enthusiasm came through food. Through client work, he had the opportunity to cook with some of Sweden’s most successful chefs, and of course, wine played a big role in the experience. Their combined interests led them to start Thora in 2015, and from a 300 plant trial, they expanded to 1500, and today they have 35 000 vines, including Solaris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chenin Blanc, and Gamay. The intent is to focus more on traditional grapes, rather than going all in on Solaris, and early on they attracted expertise to allow Thora to reach those heights.
Emma and Romain moved to Sweden from France in 2021. They studied Biodiversity in viticulture and oenology, a 5-year program at the University of Montpellier and are responsible for the entire process of the winemaking business. This includes biology, plantation, yeasts, bacteria, fermentation, bottling, partnerships, and selling. They both exude confidence, knowledge, curiosity, and an ambition to create something magical in a challenging and new environment, like Sweden.
“Sweden doesn’t have long wine-making experience, and as the climate is rather different from the south of Europe, there is so much opportunity to experiment and learn as you go,” says Emma.
With a humble approach, they made even the more detailed discussions easy to grasp for us wine enthusiasts, connecting the science to the taste. As there are no equivalent academic degrees in Sweden, the team at Thora hopes for viticulture education to at least commence in smaller formats, if not at the university level. Otherwise, it will be hard to attract the right interns locally.
When asked about their stance on sustainable practices, the pair lit up. Romain and Emma know sustainability starts in the vineyard and have adopted a holistic approach, where it’s present through each phase of the winemaking. It stretches from nurturing the growth of grapes to repurposing glass bottles, and embracing social responsibility for local communities.
“The key is to focus on a high-quality wine, what you put into it and what you don’t,” says Romain. From 2024, every label has to explain everything that went into the wine. If too long of a list, a QR code will suffice. Thora used biodynamic methods from the start, without any chemicals and as a receipt of their hard work, the winery received the eco certifications earlier this spring. Romain explains they are creating an ecosystem around the vines. which get needed nutrients from natural plants, fermented nettles for example. They use bicarbonate, sulphur, and talc, as it helps with drying when it rains, and requires fewer treatments per year.
As we take a walk between the rows of vines, grass grows everywhere, no ploughing required. Instead, the team has planted beans, chamomile, clover, and let the soil work by itself. Biodiversity is a priority, and as we stand there talking, a deer springs across the neighbouring fields. The natural system self-regulates. Emma says, “Don’t fight nature, but work with it. Put nothing in that shouldn’t be there, the terroir should determine the taste.”
In a room teeming with Swedish and French oak barrels, their philosophy shines through with a taste of the Reserve. My spontaneous reaction – wow. It almost came off as a Chardonnay, despite being a Solaris. French elegance meets Swedish serenity, with strong notes of butter, vanilla, minerals, and elderflower. Right after, Romain states their goal is to use Solaris without it tasting like one. Mission completed!
Quality before quantity
“Sweden is in the ‘new’ new world,” says Heather and predicts Sweden will make noise within 3-5 years, as quality improves, and there is a better understanding of the soil’s personality. Johan stresses there is no choice. Sweden can’t compete on price, excellence is the only way forward. Right now, demand is bigger than supply, Swedish restaurants clamouring for more.
At present, you can taste Thora’s wine in 70 Swedish restaurants and wine bars, including Michelin star establishments. Out of the 6000 bottles produced in 2022, 25% went to private customers through their distributor. Choose between Pure, Reserve, Heritage, and the Pinot Noir.
The future looks exciting at Thora winery, with a big expansion expected to be unveiled by summer 2024, featuring new wine making facilities, a restaurant, and a boutique. When asked about their 5-year plan, Johan wishes for Thora to support the wine community with the production process, and having established research cooperation with academia, perhaps also in the educational realm. He estimates there will be 60,000 producing vines, with another 20-30 000 growing. We even heard rumours of sparkling wine..
Ljungbyholm Winery – From Farm to Vineyard
What happens when you order 2700 vines, accompanying steel beams and trellis, and then forget to tell your wife? In Joakim Palm’s case, it all ended in a dream come true. A vineyard. Ljungbyholm winery is a tale of fertile soil, hard work, and thinking big.
A family affair
The Ljungbyholm estate is Joakim’s wife, Annika’s family farm. In 2018 Annika’s dad passed away, after which Annika and Joakim got more involved in the decision making concerning the farm’s future. Many ideas had come and gone throughout the years, none of them sticking. Should they move in and leave the city? In 2019, the idea of their dreams started to happen – a winery of their own, and they haven’t looked back since.
For Joakim, wine has been in the background for most of his upbringing, as his parents were part of a Swedish wine tasting society. His father, the president of the local chapter, also wrote about new releases in the papers. He accompanied them to wineries during childhood and when he met Annika, the tradition continued with visits to distilleries and wineries. They dreamt of having one of their own, and when news about Swedish wine started circulating, they researched the idea and came to the conclusion, “if others do it, so can we.”
Said and done. After erecting three test rows that received lots of tender love, Joakim ordered the aforementioned 2700 plants, inviting the unwitting family to one month of hard work on stony soil. Quite the bonding experience, if you ask us.
Room to grow
When you approach Ljungbyholm winery, the grandeur of the fields gives you an idea of the potential for expansion. The Ljungbyholm estate is one of the biggest farms on the Bjäre Peninsula, 100 hectares of land, with ancestry as far back as the beginning of the 19th century. Annikas’s grandparents acquired the estate in 1921 and started traditional farming. There are more buildings than you can count, one larger than the other. They represent an opportunity to develop the winery into something bigger, with more permanent tasting areas, and perhaps even relevant businesses on site selling cheese, bread and the like. As a start, they might go for pizza evenings next year.
Joakim points out this is not your typical southern European winery with only vineyards around. Bjäre’s heritage is agriculture, in large part potatoes and wheat. Their particular spot receives a good amount of sunlight, protected from the worst of the wind; a fortuitous effect of the microclimate in between two peninsulas.
Still, it didn’t hinder a disaster some winters ago. One morning, the family finds that deer have eaten 70% of the vines. But, instead of chucking it in, they fenced the vital areas and scaled their operations. Each year the vineyard grows, and with it comes challenges, like the almost exponential rate of weeds, most of which need to be removed. Joakim says it’s worth the labour, and the plan is to put down another 15 000 vines in the next phase.
The family lives where they work, with no pesticides, and no chemicals to fight insects. They return everything they produce to the ground, composted between the rows. A standard fertiliser is the only thing that is not organic, but Ljungbyholm aims to get certified soon.
The Croatian Connection
According to Joakim, Swedish wine is white, fruity, and fresh, with Solaris leading the way, but it can’t stop there. In true experimentation spirit, the winery has 12 grape varieties, six of them considered main. The idea is to test and see which ones are agreeable to work with, for example Rondo for blue grapes and Phoenix for green. The exoticism of Swedish wine won’t carry them into the future. High quality is a must, he says.
Ljungbyholm winery tasting sessions offer 6 choices, including reds. For the red wine, it’s a collaboration with Croatia. In 2019 they invested in Matosin Winery, outside Split. What started as a holiday turned into a business venture, as Joakim recalls, describing the small-scale Croatian wineries where the untapped potential allows for more opportunities. The grape in question is Babic, similar to Syrah and Grenache. Rich, velvety, with fresh and dark fruit flavours. The natural acid makes it magnificent to enjoy during the summer. Ljungbyholm also created their rosé wine together with the Croatian partner. Joakim hopes one day to create a fusion wine between the Swedish and Croatian but for now they complement each other.
Joakim believes in the geographic and local connection to the wines they produce at Ljungbyholm, for example, with the restaurants in the region that stock their bottles. They act as ambassadors and can tell a story about the wine. Good word of mouth, cultivated by a personal touch, goes a long way to establish loyal customers, on site for the tastings or via partners. Joakim’s passion and infectious ambition makes us believe Ljungbyholm will be a strong player on the Swedish wine scene, and they are building for the future, he says, hoping the children carry the torch. Luckily, one son is already a sommelier.
Swedish wine – Swedish values: Sustainable, Collaborative, and Innovative
The beauty of exploring the world of food and drink is the diversity and delightful surprises you stumble upon. In the case of Swedish wine, we find a cold climate (albeit getting warmer), unique terroir, and a real challenge for winemakers. The ambitious people at the Bjäre wineries cultivating vineyards amidst the Nordic landscapes have guts and tenacity, and I respect that. The razor sharp focus on quality is a sign of good things to come, and I can’t wait to explore new flavours, exclusive to the region, that will make Sweden carve its own niche contra the traditional wine-producing countries. Solaris has been to Sweden what Merlot is to Bordeaux, but changes are afoot. Whether you want a red, white, rosé, or orange wine, there is something made for you. Responsibly, more than likely.
Sustainability is not a trend or a buzzword with these winemakers, it is second nature, because in the long run, doing good is good business. Organic, Biodynamic, Natural; the labels help consumers choose, but the reality is there is no one-size-fits-all for making sustainable wines. The pragmatism we observed among the wineries speaks well of their commitment. They listen to the land, the existing biodiversity, and let the vines grow in a beautiful symbiosis with the surrounding landscape.
Speaking about beauty, the aura of collaboration between the Bjäre wineries left a sweet aftertaste. They help each other when needed, be it lending equipment, with the production process, or sharing tips. It’s a community where everybody is pulling in the same direction, for the greater good of the region. On a wider level, there is a Swedish wine industry association where the largest vineyards meet, taste each other’s wine and discuss how to professionalise the whole sector.
Innovation in terms of grape variety, international collaborations, and sustainable practices are the hallmarks of great entrepreneurs, all three wineries exhibiting a can-do attitude, mixed with passion and hard work. The heart and dedication they pour into their craft will create something magical on these northern shores. As always, the proof is in the tasting, and from our experience, Swedish wine deserves the attention. Welcome to Bjäre Wine Country.
How many wineries have you visited? Any in the north of Europe? Let us know in the comment section! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and benefit from tips, interviews, and inspirational examples of sustainable travel and tourism.