Arctic winescapes

Text: Iana Nesterova

Winescape is a term used to describe the interplay of “vineyards; wineries and other physical structures; wines; natural landscape and setting; people; and heritage, town(s) and buildings and their architecture and artefacts within, and more.” (Johnson and Bruwer, 2007). The Arctic region is not the first region that comes to mind when we contemplate wine production. While regions such as Rheinhessen in Germany and Alsace in France have traditionally been associated with wine production, speaking of wine in relation to, for instance, Northern Finland and Northern Sweden provokes disbelief, astonishment, curiosity, and, of course, further questions. In this blog post, I will briefly introduce the notion of Arctic winescapes and invite a critical approach to them.

Defining Arctic winescapes

Arctic winescapes are winescapes of the Arctic region. Wine production is possible and is unfolding in this region, though for such production not grapes, but (mainly) blueberries and lingonberries are used. Such berries grow naturally in the Arctic forests without the need for cultivation, fertilisers, pesticides, or other human interference. These berries are natural and integral features and living beings of Arctic landscapes and cultures. Oftentimes, berries such as blueberries and lingonberries are seen as an underexplored and underutilised resource of the Arctic region. While indeed it is believed that only 5 % of berries are used, by both humans and non-human beings, to view wild berries as merely a resource to be utilised may not be the best phrasing and approach. Contemplating Arctic winescapes specifically as opposed to wild berries-as-resource opens new spaces for novel and critical approaches.

Wines made from local blueberries and lingonberries are artisanal rather than mass-produced by corporations. Companies crafting such wines recognise their dependence on nature and embeddedness within both natural and social ecologies and take time to develop their products while paying attention to the journey of the product from a story, to a more concrete idea, and finally to consumption.

Visit to an Arctic winery

Recently I had an opportunity to visit and converse with Idunn, a wine-producing company in Norsjö, a locality in Swedish Västerbotten county. I learned that developing a wine made of local wild berries is a long process that took the company several years of trial and error and a long path from making the wine for consumption at home to a product that is available for others to buy. The company uses local frozen berries which allows wine production to take place throughout the year. Combining them with water, sugar and yeast in large vats and allowing them to ferment results in wine. Even though the production of berry wine is local in many senses, such as the company itself being local and berries coming from the local area, there is also a global outreach. For instance, the equipment used to produce wine in the case of Idunn comes from Tuscany, while the expert who helped this wine to be made commercially available came from Canada. Moreover, there is interest in Arctic wine elsewhere in Europe.

Features of Artic winescapes

Idunn is one of several companies which are features (amongst others) of Arctic winescapes. For instance, there are ca. 25 wineries in Finland (Suomen Viiniyrittäjät, 2022), Ranua-Revontuuli in Finnish Lapland being the most northern one while the rest are located in the South of Finland (Suomen Viiniyrittäjät, 2022). It is essential to note that Arctic wine-producing companies themselves and the wines they produce, as well as the companies (such as restaurants) purchasing these wines, are not the only features of Arctic winescapes. Perhaps the main features are the ones that in the first place make such production possible, i.e., ecosystems including forests and plants on which berries grow.

It is likewise important to remember the participation of multiple humans in the process of wine production. Apart from owner-managers of businesses and employees involved in, for instance, labelling and packaging of wine bottles, many humans are involved in wild berry picking. Such employment in the capitalist society often opens spaces for exploitation, especially that of migrant women (Hedberg, 2016). This may provide a starting point for a necessarily critical exploration of Arctic winescapes. In other words, not only Arctic winescapes themselves is a concept that challenges our thinking, but the processes of production themselves should be subjects to critical evaluation.

Deep transformations

The unfolding of Arctic winescapes can be viewed in the light of deep transformations (Buch-Hansen and Nesterova, 2021), that is, intentional transformations in society aimed at harmonious co-existence between humans and nature as well as within humanity. Contemplating deep transformations of Arctic winescapes means asking questions about the intra and intersubjective, relational, social, cultural, political, and geographical aspects of being and becoming of the winemaking industry in the Arctic region. Some of the questions may include reflecting on the possibility of Arctic winescapes being post-growth. Some features of post-growth thought are in fact growth in nature-connectedness and care (Buch-Hansen, 2021) as well as growth in opportunities for localisation of production, innovation and creativity.

Dr. Iana Nesterova is Postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Geography at Umeå University, Sweden

References

Buch-Hansen, H. (2021) Modvækst som paradigme, politisk projekt og bevægelse. Nyt fokus: Fra økonomisk vækst til bæredygtig udvikling, (17), http://www.nytfokus.nu/nummer-17/modvaekst-som-paradigme-politisk-projekt-og-bevaegelse/

Buch-Hansen, H. and Nesterova, I. (2021) Towards a science of deep transformations: Initiating a dialogue between degrowth and critical realism. Ecological Economics, 190, 107188.

Hedberg, C. (2016) ‘Doing gender’ in the wild berry industry: Transforming the role of Thai women in rural Sweden 1980–2012. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 23(2), pp. 169–184.

Johnson, R. and Bruwer, J. (2007) Regional brand image and perceived wine quality: the consumer perspective. International Journal of Wine Business Research, 19 (4), pp. 276-297. https://doi.org/10.1108/17511060710837427

Suomen Viiniyrittäjät (2022) Finnish country wineries. Available at: https://www.viinitilat.net/en/

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