Picture the scene: a little town of brightly-painted wooden houses clinging to a bare rock shoreline where giant blue-green icebergs glide silently by and chill northern winds have beaten the vegetation into six-inch-high submission. It’s a far cry from the sunny slopes of Bordeaux, yet incredibly, in the middle of that scene, there’s a winery at work.
The town is called Twillingate and it lies on the northern shores of Newfoundland off the coast of Canada (so off the coast of Canada, in fact, that it has its own time zone — you have to adjust your watches by 30 minutes when you arrive from the mainland). My wife and I visited the place some years ago and our astonishment at these great chunks of Arctic ice floating past just yards away from the houses was almost matched by the discovery that there was someone there who actually thought it would be a good place to make wine.
Naturally, we had to have a tour of the winery and discovered, to no great surprise, that their products were made not from grapes but from wild Newfoundland berries and fruits. To be honest, the result was more like alcoholic fruit juice than wine, but not at all in a bad way, and really, you’ve got to admire the audacity of anyone who thinks they can produce anything approximating wine in such an unforgiving climate. They’ve been at it now for 25 years so I guess they must be doing something right.
The Newfoundland wine-makers are not the only ones to triumph over adversity and produce something very drinkable in the most challenging of island locations. Rising out of the middle of the Atlantic is a pyramid-shaped volcanic outcrop called Pico, part of the Azores archipelago, and here they’ve been doing it since the 17th century. I recall taking a trip in a taxi there and the driver telling us we were the last fare of the day as he had to go and help with the family’s wine harvest — it was one of those islands where everybody took a hand in everything. Later I tried the fruits of their labours. A glass of the island’s lovely Frei Gigante to wash down seafood plucked fresh from the Atlantic is a thing of rare delight.
Like Newfoundland, the Baltic Sea seems an unlikely place to try your hand at wine production, if only because the winters are, well, Baltic. But here again we find optimistic wine-makers at work, this time on the island of Bornholm, an enchanting little anachronism that belongs to Denmark but lies just off the coast of Sweden. It claims to be the sunniest spot in the Baltic, which you’d think mightn’t mean an awful lot, but it’s enough to ripen the grapes grown in the vineyard of Lille Gadegard.
When the first vines were planted there in 2000, everyone thought the project was doomed to failure, but three years later, the first wine flowed. Traffic jams ensued, phone were ringing constantly with orders, the Danish media descended, and the whole batch sold out in less than two hours.
I had the opportunity to try some a few years back and while it won’t set the world alight, the experience of drinking Bornholm wine has an added bouquet from the knowledge that it shouldn’t really exist at all. The folk at Lille Gadegard also produce some grape-based spirits and have recently branched out into whiskey and beer, all of which are dished out in copious quantities at their ‘big grill buffets’ during the lovely Bornholm summer nights.
These are just three of the wine-making islands I’ve visited, but if that’s whetted your appetite for more unlikely offshore vineyards, you could try venturing further afield to sample Vin de Tahiti, the first winery in French Polynesia in the South Pacific, located on a tiny coral atoll only accessible by boat.
Or you could venture to Hatten Wines on the island of Bali, where they produce a dry white, a medium-bodied red and two sparkling wines from grapes grown locally.
Or you could sample the intriguing pineapple wines produced on the Hawaiian island of Maui since 1974. They also make wine from grapes, but hey, you can get that anywhere.