Högberga Wine Factory – Swedish wine from Italian grapes

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Two crazy Swedes make Italian wine in Stockholm

The strange story of how two Swedish wine enthusiasts began making wine on Lidingö, an island that is part of Stockholm. The truck the grapes home with a lorry from Tuscany in Italy. And it actually tastes good! Britt Karlsson tells the story.

Sweden has a difficult climate for viticulture, we can all agree on that. But there are certainly a few brave winemakers who try, despite the challenging weather. But you can make “Swedish” wine in other ways. Högberga Wine Factory (Högberga Vinfabrik) on Lidingö has chosen to haul grapes to Stockholm from Tuscany.

The winery is on Lidingö, just outside of Stockholm City, at the Högberga conference centre. The “factory” is a complete winery. It has stainless steel fermentation tanks, oak barrels of various sizes, a wine press, a de-stalking machine, a sorting table, yes, all the equipment that you need. The newly harvested grapes arrive here from Tuscany and ferment, is stored and the bottled when it has become wine. A wine consultant from Italy comes here every now and then to give advice.

Per Hallgren och Johan Zälle på Högberga Vinfabrik
Per Hallgren och Johan Zälle på Högberga Vinfabrik, copyright Jappe Liljedahl

Fom Toscana to Lidingö

The adventure started in 2004. Johan Zälle, now one of the winemakers, had lived in a village in Tuscany for a number of years. He had become friends with many winemakers and, of course, tried a a wide variety of Tuscan wines. When his childhood friend Per Hallgren, also a big wine lover, came down and visited in 2004 the idea was born that the two would try to produce wine in Sweden, made from Italian grapes.

The Italians thought that they were crazy. “It is impossible to transport the grapes so far. It will start to ferment,” was the usual comment. And the first time they tried it was not that great. The wine had almost turned to vinegar. But since then it has been improved and now the grapes survive unscathed to Sweden in a refrigerated container at 8 degrees Celsius.

“The grapes are kept in 20 kg crates that we do not fill completely. We do not want to risk getting damaged grapes. They remain whole, there is no fermentation prematurely, “says Johan.

Ett tankprov på Högberga Vinfabrik
Ett tankprov på Högberga Vinfabrik, copyright Jappe Liljedahl

A “locally produced product”

The volume is now at around 10-11 tons of grapes. It results in 7500 bottles sold at prices between around 20 to 30 euro. “We export a little back to Italy but most is sold either here in the restaurant at Högberga or at Systembolaget [the monopoly alcohol shops in Sweden]. We are listed at the monopoly as a “locally produced product”, the wine is available in some shops near Lidingö (Fältöversten and Garnisonen), but the wines can be ordered from any shop in Sweden.”

At the time of writing there may still be 2010s available.

8.90 San Riserva 2010

8.90 San Riserva 2010 is made from 80% sangiovese and 20% cabernet sauvignon. It has spent 15 months in used French oak barrels. “We want some oak character but it is important that the fruit and other flavours are not masked,” says Johan. There is both tobacco and a nice spiciness, some herbs and a little butter fudge at the end. (No. 71574 at Systembolaget, 249 SEK).

8.90 Cab Riserva 2010

8.90 Cab Riserva 2010 has the proportions inverted, 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% sangiovese coming from the coastal region of Morellino di Scansano. “Here we have used more American oak,” says Johan. “It gives another oak character with more vanilla.”

The Cabernet wine is partly kept in American oak and partly in 110 litre French barrels. The wine is well balanced with a sweet vanilla, the end is dry and firm, which I like, and that makes it also a good match with food.

Fatkällaren på Högberga Vinfabrik
Fatkällaren på Högberga Vinfabrik, copyright Jappe Liljedahl

A wine that sets new records

The name of the wines may seem a little strange. 8.90 refers to Bob Beamon’s old long jump record that was for a long time considered impossible to beat. But it was finally beaten, and yes you can make Italian wine on Lidingö.

Swedish oak from Visingsö

In April this year the 2011s will be launched on the market. With this vintage Johan and Per introduces an entirely new kind of oak, namely Swedish wood. The 8.90 Cab 2011 is made from only cabernet sauvignon and 80% of the wine has been aged in Swedish oak casks from Visingsö (an island on in one of Sweden’s many lakes) for 12 months. The remaining 20% has been kept in American oak. The wine was bottled in November 2012 and has a nice acidity, red berries on the nose and on the palate, a good balance with quite discreet oak character. Good body and a firm finish.

“We first bought a Swedish barrel as an experiment. We thought it went well primarily with cabernet sauvignon. The Swedish oak seems to emphasise the minerality of the wine”, says Johan. “But now, we also put the merlot in Swedish oak.”

Ett fatprov på Högberga Vinfabrik
Ett fatprov på Högberga Vinfabrik, copyright Jappe Liljedahl

Powerful merlot

We taste the merlot 2012 from barrel. The colour is deep, almost black, the wine has a dense structure, plenty of fruit and a slight astringency in the end. It will probably become very good in time. Also the sangiovese 2012 showed great potential with fruits and berries and subtle aromas. A blend of sangiovese and malvasia nero showed soft tannins, good structure and some liquorice. Quite light in style and with a certain elegance.

Overall, the wines have good structure and good balance. It is wines that go well with food and they do feel Italian. Which is natural of course. It is where they come from. How much the air on Lidingö has an impact of the character is hard to say in the current situation!

The Högberga wines are also available at some restaurants, like 19 Glas and Gondolen in Stockholm, The Åre Wine Bar and Enskede Matbod.

Johan and Per organise many wine related activities at the Högberga Conference Centre. Take a look at https://hogberga.se

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