Finland could seek EU recognition as a wine-producing country by 2028

Wine production in Finland is extremely small-scale.

The new government programme includes a line on applying for Finland to become a wine-producing country, as designated by the European Union.

The wine producers' association Viininkasvattajat ry has been pushing for the designation since last August, when a proposal was delivered to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The association's chair Kari Latvus says that the status would clarify the regulations and improve the prospects for development of the grape-growing industry."There could be potential for Finland to be a quality grape producer, which could produce wine," said Latvus.

Finnish wine production is currently small-scale, with grape growers currently cultivating on a mainly experimental basis. There are professional growers too, however.

According to a survey by their association, the average grape harvest was 146kg in 2022, although the median was around 30kg. It remains small-scale because of the difficulty in marketing and selling drinks made from grapes under the current legislation. The drink cannot be called 'wine' under EU law.

Finnish legislation, meanwhile, states that alcoholic drinks made from grapes must be sold through the state alcohol monopoly Alko.

"Now we need to work through these blockages, so that we can start development work," said Latvus. "The most important thing is of course that producers should be allowed to make wine in Finland and call it wine."

Explosive growth not expected

The association's 2022 survey suggested that interest in commercial winemaking remains limited. Of 42 respondents, just five said they might want to produce wine for sale.Latvus says that there's no expectation of explosive growth in the sector even if Finland is granted the EU designation.

"There are a few startup entrepreneurs," said Latvus. "Production would start with a few, and within a few years there could be dozens."

A new vineyard only produces a harvest 3-5 years from planting of the vines. Latvus says a few years are also spent on gaining the skills to produce quality wine.

"I have to say that this could be a really slow start," said Latvus. "We are talking about a timescale of around a decade, before we get quality wines produced from grapes onto the market."

Sweden was added to the EU list of wine producers in 1999. Now 25 years later the country has around 50 vineyards that cover around 250 hectares altogether, mostly in the south of the country.

First sparkling wines and rosé, red wines take longer

Climate change has made wine production possible in the Nordic countries, because the warming of the climate has lengthened the growing season considerably. There has also been progress in developing new hybrid grape varieties that are better suited to the winter conditions.

Latvus says there is already a vision of what kinds of wines Finland could produce.

"In the cool growing environment different sparkling wines and rosé wines would be the best route," said Latvus. "Production of a good red wine is a longer journey, and more difficult."

Kaisa Auer-Koutroukides, of the association representing fruit and berry wine producers, says her members have expressed little interest in switching to grapes.

They are enthused, however, about the government's plan to liberalise the regime on farms selling their own wines. The proposal would allow wineries, small distilleries and breweries to sell online.

"Online ordering permission would make things more equal and improve the opportunities in the market," said Auer-Koutroukides. "Then we would be at the same starting point as other European wine producers."

Wineries were banned from producing wine using grapes in 2018. At the same time, mail order sales were also banned. The Teisko farm owned by Auer-Koutroukides produced wine from grapes for a decade until sales were to be switched to Alko.

"Because the costs were big and production was small, we sold off our stocks and concentrated on fruit and berry wines," said Auer-Koutroukides.

Earliest designation in 2028

Wine producer designation would allow Finnish producers to use the word 'wine', rather than 'mild alcoholic drink produced from grapes' as dictated by current EU law.

It would also bring the full EU permit and regulation regime to wine production, and potentially a share of the one billion euros in subsidies dished out each year to wine producers.

The earliest Finland could get the new designation is 2028, as that is when a new period of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding starts.

The Commission's plans for the new CAP season will become clear in the winter of 2024-2025, according to Leena Seppä from the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry.


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