Wineries the Danish way – touring the coastal wineries of Denmark by bicycle
It might seem strange to mention “Denmark” and “vineyards” in the same sentence, but Danish winemakers insist it’s going to be happening more often.
“The fact that we don’t have a tradition is an advantage because we can find our own ways of doing things. But if winemaking was easy, everyone could do it.” Anders Lejbach, owner-manager of Røsnæs Vingård on the island of West Zealand in Denmark, is relaxing on the terrace of a wooden cabin in the shade of a huge wine barrel, close to his house overlooking his vineyards sloping down to the sea.
As one of several winemakers cultivating vines for winemaking on the Røsnæs peninsula, nurturing the oldest established vineyard in the region since 1989, he predicts changes in consumer attitude as well as product quality when it comes to Danish wine. “Wine growing here is going to expand,” he says. “Danish wine used to be awful, and some of it still is, but now people need to just taste it and they’ll realise how good it is. I think Denmark has an excellent future as a wine country. It feels great to have been there at the start.”
I’m touring the peninsula by bicycle so I have to be careful not to quaff too much of the ample tastings Anders offers me. But I can confirm that the quality of his sparkling and other white varieties test my restraint. Røsnæs Vingård, towards the lighthouse at the western tip of the peninsula, is also just one stop on my sample-by-cycling exploration of its vineyards.
The cycle route follows well-signed paths and country lanes, alternately buffeted and assisted by fresh sea breezes, passing ancient burial mounds marooned in pastures of grain and munching cattle. I’m able to stop and admire the manicured gardens of a churchyard and refuel at a harbourside cafe. In a country where the bicycle is both encouraged and respected as a sustainable means of transport, this seems the most appropriate way to explore the region.
The next stop on my tour, Barfod Vin, is only a couple of kilometres away, and I’m greeted by winemaker Lise Hyttel Barfod who founded the vineyard project with her husband Povl in 2015. “We were both architects with an office in Copenhagen,” she explains.
“We decided to do something else and at first it was just me longing to have a garden. So we looked for somewhere with a garden, and ended up here. It was a good choice, it’s a different kind of life. We only regret we didn’t do it ten years earlier. But if you do it well you have to focus. It’s hard work. Many vineyards use volunteers which can be difficult because people expect it to be just a social event when in fact it’s very tough work. You can’t spread it out over the year, because you have to do things at the right time, especially during harvesting and winter pruning.”
An attitude issue
Denmark’s world-class reputation for fine cuisine is based on the preference of its numerous Michelin star-awarded chefs for fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Danish beer, from breweries big and small, is held globally in high regard, but recognition of the country’s wines hasn’t yet reached a similar level. Is the Danish public ready to take its home-grown wine more seriously?
“There is definitely still an attitude issue,” says Lise. “But when people taste it, they’re surprised. Wow, we didn’t know you could do this in Denmark! In a way it’s good that they don’t expect anything, because when they taste it, there’s that wow factor. But first they have to come and taste it, and that’s our challenge.”
So what is it about the Røsnæs region that has made it home to Denmark’s most significant community of winemakers?
Carl F. Stub Trock, who welcomes me to the Stub Vineyard at the eastern end of the peninsula, explains: “There has been a lot of research to confirm the fact that this is probably the best place in Denmark to grow vineyards. The soil is very dry and sandy, with a lot of gravel and chalk. In fact, you can’t grow much else here apart from rye. The whole peninsula was created by ice retreating 20,000 years ago, leaving one long rolling hill of moraine with small hills and south-facing slopes. Beneath the moraine are thick layers of clay which can retain water. That combination is very good. We have more sunshine here than the Danish average as well as low rainfall. The warming effect of the sea helps to prevent frost that ruins the buds in spring. We don’t need to light fires to prevent early frost in autumn.”
Solaris a suitable grape
Carl leads me up from his farmhouse home, which is also the base for his horse-breeding enterprise, to a former stone water tower overlooking smart ranks of vines that march down towards the sea. He has converted the tower into a place to present tastings where visitors can also enjoy the view. He has named his very good, award-winning wines – Pink Pony, Mellow Mare, Sparkling Stallion – with a nod to his interest in horses.
With the sea sparkling below at the end of the neat green vines, it’s easy to imagine you’re on the edge of the Mediterranean, not the Baltic. The conditions for grape cultivation are not so different, enhanced by a creeping rise in average annual temperature due to climate change. However, the single dominant and most suitable grape variety here is Solaris, a type less favoured further south.
Barfod’s wines are produced at Lise’s own on-site winery – separate production is required to maintain their organic status – but Stub and Røsnæs Vingård make use of the production facilities at the peninsula’s fourth and biggest vineyard, Dyrehøj. I park my bike at the entrance to the elegant house that formerly presided over a pig farm. I’m hosted by sales manager Betina Newberry, whose brother Tom Christensen bought the farm in 2007 and planted the first of more than 40,000 vines a year later.
Betina takes me for a stroll through the vines that stretch as far as the hiking trail skirting the peninsula’s southern shore before I taste some samples of the winery’s award-winning Rös brand products in the Dyrehøj shop. Tempted by the array of bottles in the shop, I depart on the 5-kilometre ride back to my hotel, happily anticipating the clinking contents of my pannier bag.
Visitors are welcome at all four vineyards. Finnair operates regular flights to Copenhagen.