Finland goes wild for natural wine

The recent Helsinki Natural Wine festival had to cope with media scepticism about natural wines before it had even opened. But, reports Ilkka Sirén, the Finns voted with their feet.

Helsinki Natural Wine
Helsinki Natural Wine/Photo by Ilkka Sirén

The natural wine movement has found a home in Helsinki. Wine lovers from near and far gathered at the first edition of Helsinki Natural Wine festival on 22 and 23 of March at the Korjaamo Culture Factory.

While it’s no surprise to hear about natural wine festivals in Nordic capitals like Copenhagen or perhaps even Stockholm, what’s less expected is that natural wines have found a solid fan base in Helsinki. Just a couple of years ago nobody in Finland knew about natural wine, but now consumers can’t seem to get enough of it. Now, the Helsinki Natural Wine festival is looking to crown Helsinki the Nordic capital of natural wine—and it just might do that.

“The idea of doing an event around natural wine had been brewing for a while. There hasn’t been a natural wine event like this before in Finland, and it just felt that the time was ripe,” says Samuli Pasanen, one of the organisers. “The restaurants in Helsinki have done such a great job with natural wine recently which has helped to create a demand for these wines. It’s because of their hard grinding work that natural wine is not this weird little thing anymore. Nowadays, wine consumers in Helsinki are much more familiar with these products.”

Part of the success is the local cuisine. “The trend came from European wine bars in the last three years through restaurants such as BasBas and Grön,” says Tuomo Laitinen, a wine importer at Carelia Wines. “These type of wines are food friendly and work well with the Nordic kitchen. Industrial wines don’t taste like anything once you get used to natural wines. It’s a difficult thing to unlearn.”

Helsinki Natural Wine festival expected approximately 2,000 visitors over the two days. “There’s a great atmosphere here. People come with an open mind, and they are interested to learn about natural wine,” says Henri Bäckman, a wine importer at Bioviini. According to Bäckman, there is a bit of a prohibition-style defiant feel to natural wines that is somewhat attractive. “Five years ago there was a lot of resistance towards natural wines in Helsinki, and now the whole thing is really popular.”

Even the wine producers at the event seemed amazed about how enthusiastic the Finns are. “Honestly, I’m a bit surprised. Everyone knows that natural wine is big in Denmark but a lot is happening even in Finland and it has become one of our most important markets. We even produce an exclusive wine just for the Finnish market,” says Martin Arndorfer, a winemaker at Austria’s Weingut Martin & Anna Arndorfer.

The potentially lucrative trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by Alko, Finland’s government-owned alcohol monopoly. In 2017, Alko surprised many sceptics by launching a category for natural wines. Despite the small number of natural wines (41 products) in Alko, it’s means natural wines are available everywhere in Finland, normalizing the category and reinforcing the trend.

Not everyone is happy. Finland’s biggest daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat published a belittling article about natural wine titled “Thoroughly weird natural wines” just two days prior to the Helsinki Natural Wine festival. The article underlined bad shelf life and oxidation, and turned quickly from explaining ‘what is natural wine’ to ‘why natural wine is bad’. On their website the publication declared “Helsingin Sanomat panel tasted and squashed trendy natural wines.”

It doesn’t matter how disapproving the critics may be, it’s safe to say the vinous landscape has changed and natural wine is now a part of it.
Ilkka Sirén

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