Much has been written about Finnish weather. But, contrary to knee-trembling tales of perpetual darkness and frozen seas, Mother Nature’s heavy hand here up north can also open a world of opportunities.
Upon moving to Finland for work nine years ago from Massachusetts, USA, David Cohen quickly discovered that the cooler climate here was going to play havoc with his favourite pastime.
“Making wine was a hobby when I lived in the States,” he recalls. “I had been doing it for a number of years. But when I moved here I couldn’t order grapes, so I started to try local ingredients.”
Cohen quickly discovered that aside from a thick layer of snow, another thing that Finland has in abundance is berries, and an everyman’s right to pick them from wherever one chooses.
“I had no background in berry wines, but I tried them all,” he continues. “Most didn’t turn out well, but there were lots of good ones with potential.”
One quickly distinguished itself from the bunch: the cloudberry. The result was so impressive that an idea swiftly began to ferment.
Buoyed by his backyard success, David teamed up with his wife, Ecuadorian Paola Guerrero de Cohen, to found their own label, Ainoa Winery. After earning certification from a wine production degree programme in 2013, the duo was granted a license to do just that in July 2014.
Together they set out to fill the gap in the market for berry wines made from ingredients only found locally.
Renting space at a winery approximately 110 kilometres north of Helsinki, small scale production soon followed. No berry remained unturned in their quest for new discoveries, with raspberries, lingonberries and bilberries being put to the test across the spectrum of time-honoured wine-making traditions.
Nonetheless, in contrast to Ainoa Winery’s rapidly expanding palate, the duo’s trailblazing approach was continually met with indifference from the local community.
“A year ago, we had a zero-response rate when we contacted interested parties in Finland,” Cohen states. “There have been wineries here for 20 years, but no tradition of berry wine as a prestige product. We were attempting to sell to a market that didn’t yet exist.”
With their cork stuck in the bottle, the duo became increasingly despondent. That was until a friend suggested that they enter some global competitions to increase their visibility. A much-welcomed trickle of recognition soon turned into a gusset of praise.
Awards quickly piled up from Melbourne, Berlin and California. The duo then had to make room on the mantelpiece for one of the winemaking world’s most sought-after accolades: Ainoa Winery’s Vaapukka Raspberry Dessert wine was awarded a Gold Medal and a trophy recognising it as one of the best wines in the world at the Vinalies International Wine Competition in Paris.
Organised by l’Union des Œnologues de France (the Union of French Oenologists), the competition attracted more than 3 500 entries from 45 countries, with almost half from France. Each wine was judged by fellow winemakers and given a score for quality. Vaapukka received the 11th-highest score overall, and the highest for any entry that was not a grape wine, thus earning the trophy for that category. This marked the first time a trophy has been awarded to a berry wine at Vinalies.
Not done with their trailblazing, Vaapukka is also the first Finnish wine to be included in the French guide collating the 1 000 most notable wines of the world, to be published this summer.
“We are putting Finland on the world map of wine,” Guerrero de Cohen states. “We believe we have something special.”
Filling more glasses
Having alerted the globe to their ground-breaking enterprise, Ainoa Winery now hopes to increase production, as they target markets in China, USA, Spain, France and the UK.
“We will eventually outgrow our space,” Cohen foresees. “We need to find export partners and funding to buy equipment and market effectively. We are making a luxury product. Finnish berries grow wild and free for everyone, but when buying by the tonne, they are not cheap.”
By sourcing ingredients unavailable elsewhere in the world, the duo feels its business model is truly sustainable. And, whilst they are keen to shower praise on the local raw materials, they are naturally less forthcoming about the complex methods behind their winning flavours.
“Winemaking is simple: you put grapes in a barrel, leave them for a few days and you have wine,” Cohen explains, with a smile. “With berries, if you leave them for a few days, you come back and you have rotten berries.”
Wondering what to pair with your Ainoa Winery bottle? Wonder no more.
Award-winning for a reason, this raspberry dessert wine is perfect with chocolate and cheesecake.
A sweet explosion of cloudberry partners perfectly with such dishes as foie gras.
The unexpectedly earthy, sherry-like qualities of this beetroot dessert wine go swimmingly with goat cheese.
Help celebrate Finland’s centenary in style, with creamy Finnish cheese and this Suomi 100-approved bilberry dessert wine
Game meat and duck go a treat with this bilberry table wine.
This methode traditional sparkling wine made from cloudberries and Finnish honey is perfect for toasting – fitting as a limited number of bottles will be available from Alko in November to celebrate the Finnish centennial.