If you come to the Swedish westcoast on Easter, don’t miss the bonfires. An old tradition, still involving many people in the small coastal villages. People work together to make the biggest bonfire in the village, the one that will burn for the longest time. This is a really serious matter.
But you have to be on the right spot, just beside the sea. Only a little bit into the country, there are no fires at Easter but instead on Walpurgis night, the last of April. And those bonfires are not that impressive as the Easter ones in Bohuslän.
Some pictures from yeasterday’s bonfire building and the outcome. The most impressive bonfire, with the most impressive view! And of course, it “won” against the other bonfire in the village. 😉
Yes, you can. Go vineyard visiting in Sweden. Look out for the name vingård, which means vineyard in Swedish. So, when you travel to Scandinavia, why not come to the Swedish westcoast and Ästad Vingård? A vineyard and winery where the ambitions are on top. “We shall make the best wine in Sweden,” says Daniel Carlsson, responsible for the production and development of Ästad’s wine.
I have driven south from Gothenburg, along the coast on the E6 motorway. In the county Halland, I turned left towards Tvååker, just after having passed the signs pointing in the opposite direction to the beaches and coastal city of Varberg. Small roads, fields, into the woods, and then, the landscape opens up again. A little lake, many buildings, and there, on the slope behind the guest houses, the south-west facing vineyard. A beautiful place, even now in March, when the countryside still is more brown-yellow than green.
Ästad has a long history as a farm, but a newcomer to vines and wines. Only two vintages made, both still in tanks and bottles in the winery.
The goal is a first class sparkling wine made with traditional method, but there is also a still white semi-dry wine in the portfolio. The same grapes are used, but the base wine for the sparkling gets only the free run must, while the white wine is based on the first press.
After having tasted both the white wine and the base wine for the sparkling, I dare say; Ästad is well under way to fulfil their goal. These wines have quality.
Vinegrowing and wine production is a rather new phenomenon in Sweden. According to Systembolaget (the monopoly for direct sales of wines and spirits to consumers in Sweden), there are 13 winemaking producers (a number that sounds a bit too small to me) and about 250 grape growers, but of the approximately total vineyard area of 40 hectar, only 20 is directed to commercial production.
Solaris rules at Ästad, with 15000 vines planted on a total of four hectars. Solaris is an aromatic grape of German origin. In fact a hybrid, however authorized in Germany since 2004 (Robinson et al, Wine Grapes, 2012). The synonym Freiburg 204-75, from its origin in Freiburg in Baden-Württemberg, is not as a romantic name.
Solaris refers to the sun as a symbol for power and early ripening. Add to that high sugar levels and good resistance to fungal diseases and you understand its popularity in northern, cooler climats. But the grapes must be treated with extreme carefullness, any damage to the stems gives unpleasant greenish notes to the wine. At Ästad the grapes are harvested in mid September to give the wines a good level of fresh acidity.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise to experience the quality of Ästad’s wines already after two years. The team at Ästad, with winemaker Claes Bartholdsson, has good support from their renowed coach and consulting winemaker, Swedish Lars Torstenson.
Lars started his winemaking career at Domaine Rabiega in Provence when the estate was under ownership of Swedish Vin & Sprit (then connected to the Swedish monopoly). This was in the late 80ies and Lars lifted the estate to top quality during the 90ies. He left Rabiega about ten years ago and is now a “flying winemaker” with assignments globally. Ästad is one of Lars’ clients.
Coming to Ästad is coming to a family. The three siblings, Daniel Carlsson, Linda Petersson and Mattias Glamheden run the business with families, in total about 30 employees. From the beginning Ästad was a traditional farm, but developed into tourism by their parents, the second generation on the farm. Facilities for conference events, adventure activities, restaurant and a spa with saunas and baths were added to the growing business.
The wine came to Ästad when the third generation took over in 2010. The vineyard was planted in 2011 and the Wine House, with winery and conference facilities, inaugurated in May 2014. The winery is filled with long rows of small stainless steel tanks holding the first vintages. Some wine has been bottled. Visible proof is some bottles in the wine cellar and a pupitre in the winery, filled with traditionally shaped bottles for sparkling wine, inside what will be Ästad sparkling.
Now we just wait for the official release of Ästad Vingård’s first wines. That will be the still, semi-dry white wine, which will be bottled this summer and served on Ästad. Until then, Ästad’s guests can choose from the wine celler’s selection from traditional wine regions around the world. Not least there are some beautiful wines made by the six winemakers who earlier this week visited Ästad for the Terrific Women’s Winemaking Day, TWWD2015. TWWD was also the primary reason for the visit of yours truly, the dive into Swedish winemaking became a bonus.
More Swedish vineyards to visit:
– Many of the vineyards are located in Skåne, the most southern county of Sweden, adjacent to Halland. At Visit Skåne you find a selection of wineries receiving visitors.
– Another source to explore for wineries is the directory on the webpage of Svenska Vinodlare (the Swedish wine grower association).
13th of December. Lucia day in Sweden. A traditional celebration when Lucia, with a crown of lights in her hair, comes singing with her maids, all dressed in white.
We havn’t seen Lucia today, but had a wonderful walk along the roaring sea, with dark blue waves hitting the cliffs of Bohuslän in the beautiful last sunrays of the day. Later, at home, we feast on our own Lucia tradition, Lucia safron buns with Sauternes.
The buns are however not traditional this year. Except for the safron. That is a mandatory ingredient. The form is new and, additionally, there are some new flavours. Homemade by Him, who made them after own ideas. Filled with cinnamon, cardamom or tasty blackcurrant marmelade.
While most people have coffee to their Lucia buns, we prefer Sauternes. It is a perfect pairing, as the wine gets aromas of safron when stored.
This year we have a Château Grillon 2011 Sauternes, really a little too young. Just a slight touch of safron on nose and palate. Accompanied by apricot and oranges. Apricot kernels and bitter almonds. Juicy sweet, still with good acidity. A good wine. However, would prefer to put it into the cellar some years to let the safron notes grow. Then it will become a perfect Lucia safron bun companion.
Believe it or not, but sometimes we skip the wine. A grey, windy autumn afternoon a nice cup of tea can be just the right thing. Especially when you are sitting just next to the sea. We went to the small fishing village Fiskebäckskil, had afternoon tea at Gullmarsstrand Hotel, and then strolled around the small, cobbled streets.
Fiskebäckskil is one of five small villages on the Swedish westcoast island Skaftö. We are in Bohuslän, next to the sea and the fjord Gullmarn. The village goes back to the 16th century but got its fame as a wealthy shipper village in the 1900ies. In the next century tourism started as it grew popular among the high society, wanting to experience summer resort life. Tourism is still at the heart of the village, and the island, even if its nature has changed.
The hotel Gullmarsstrand is built on the exact spot of the old seaside restaurang. But today it is a complete hotel with modern design and clean straight lines. The latest extension, designed by the renowned Swedish architect Gert Wingårdh, a nice “living room” welcomes us to Saturday afternoon tea. Afternoon tea the Swedish way. We get tasty small sandwiches, Gullmarsstrand’s scones and end with some sweet cakes on the plate. Lovely, just miss my favourite Earl Grey among the tea selection.
A stroll in Fiskebäckskil’s small cobbled streets is always nice. It is a peaceful village all year around, even if summertime is blossom time. But you do not go here to shop or to seek night life. No, you go here to relax, enjoy the sea and have some nice meals. This time of year we are almost alone. The big, fancy old captain houses are mostly owned by summer guests. In October it is quiet. Calm. Relaxing.
We are not the first ones. Lonely Planet was here ages ago. National Geographic also. Then CNN Travel, who apart from kayaking around in Bohuslän also appointed this part of the Swedish westcoast to one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. All of them have done it. Visited the boathouse in Grebbestad, “Everts sjöbod”.
We spend the 28 September exploring the freshly roused Food Feast in Västra Götaland. A day for us, the general public, to visit companies offering locally produced food. Arranged for the very first time this year. Nice visits, where we have plenty of room, no crowds. Well, everything must have a start and we hope for a continuation with more participants in Bohuslän.
We cannot wish for a better beginning of an autumn Sunday. Super fresh oysters and lovely champagne. Of course, there is a hard choice to make. The special oyster porter is an attractive alternative, but champagne is always champagne. So, champagne it is, for me. It is His turn to drive and a more suitable beverage of elder berry flowers is poured in the other glass.
The label says Oyster Champagne. It is beautiful, has matured for some years; the flavour palette has developed and deepened. At the same time the light, fresh crispiness is there. Precisely as pure Chardonnay, a Blanc de Blancs, from Le Mesnil should be. A perfect companion to the oysters. We already know who has made it. The confirmation comes on the bottom of the label.
Champagne Pertois-Moriset. A nice visit on our French wine journey in 2013. In fact it is almost exactly one year since we were in Le Mesnil, chatting with Vincent and tasting their lovely Grand Crus.
Per Karlsson, Everts sjöbod
Fresh Swedish oysters.
In Everts sjöbod Per Karlsson stands behind the barrel, which acts as table today, opening oysters and serving champagne and other suitable drinks. To visit the boathouse you normally have to book yourself an oyster adventure. This is a special day, when we just can pop in.
“Chew it thoroughly,” urges Per. He has quickly and very neatly opened some oysters for us. “It is when you chew it, you really feel the flavours.”
Per Karlsson opening oysters.
Champagne stored under the sea, unfortunately already empty.
Swedish oyster Shells.
Delicious Swedish oysters.
It is delicous, very delicous. Even a beginner on “raw oysters”, as me, likes them a lot. For a long time I prefered oysters cooked, the outcome of a not too successful premiere in Chamonix at young age. However, since Swedish oysters started to be included on His menu (who always has loved the fresh, yelly-like little treats, irrespective of origin), my development curve has shown a positive trajectory.
Ostrea edulis, the Latin name specifies exactly what we are served. The Swedish oyster, a species many connoisseurs hold for the very best offered within the world of oysters. Not everyone can pick them. Since centuries that is right of the land owner and in the case of oysters, the land stretches 200 meters out in the sea from the shore.
It is amazing that these small oysters in fact have an age of seven, eight years when we sink our teeth into them. The larvae attaches to shells and grows in a complicated life cycle, alternating between being male and female. Oysters can also be very old. Per shows us an impressively thick shell of an oyster, estimated to have reached an age of 30 years.
Before we leave the boat house we taste another specialty from Bohuslän, Grebbestads tångbröd, a seaweed bread, offered both as soft bread and hard, with a kiss of the sea baked into it. Available are also several different seaweeds, dried to be used in cooking. It contains a lot umami. A little seaweed or some seaweed salt is known to really enhance the flavours, for example in a fish soap. We buy some, must be tested back home.
Seaweed bread from Grebbestad.
Dried seaweed and seaweed bread.
We leave the seashore in Grebbestad, where strong winds roar the sea and keep many lobster fishermen on land, and head south. First for some honey and stone oven baked bread, but well at home we end the day as it started, with some crispy champagne.