I’ve just spent the weekend in Norway, at the Sandefjord Wine Festival. Sandefjord is a small seaside town about two hours’ train ride south of Oslo, and it’s a lovely place to hang out, especially when the weather is favourable.
The wine festival is a collaboration between a few local importers, and they managed to get a nice crowd together in a tent in the street. My job was to give a couple of talks: one on the Friday evening about the Elgin wine region in South Africa, at an Elgin Ridge producer dinner in Smak restaurant, and the second a more general one on the wines of South Africa at the consumer session of the festival (the first session was for trade and press).
The festival is organized by Janne Brekke of Winning Brands, a Norweigan agency business, and after it was over we headed to her holiday home on the fjord for a dinner with all the winemakers and the Winning Brands staff. This is where I got to eat whale for the first time.
Sandefjord is the capital of whaling in Norway. Janne’s husband Dag told me that his grandfather was a whaler. The life of a whaler would have been quite edgy. In September they’d get on a boat and head down to the Cape, a journey that would take a month. Then they would whale for seven months, get extremely rich, and head home. They’d be home for summer, and they would typically blow all their cash. The highest paid of all was the dude who operated the whaling harpoon at the front of the boat, who commanded an astronomical salary.
Norway and Japan are the two countries that still whale, although they hunt the Minke whale, which is not endangered. Still, it is a controversial and emotive subject. In the harbour at Sandefjord, there’s the last remaining operational old-style whaling boat, the Southern Actor.
Back to the wine. I tasted round quite a few of the producers, with an emphasis on South Africa. I know many of these wines quite well, but it’s always good to have another look.
Brian’s Elgin Ridge wines are really nice, and the star attraction here is the first two vintages, 2016 and 2017, of the Chaos white. This is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon from biodynamically farmed vines in Elgin, with a portion of the blend given some skin contact (I participated in foot treading the Semillon portion in 2017, so this wine will have some of my skin cells in it). There was also the rather distinctive 2012 MCC sparkling, which has complex savoury flavours: a brave wine.
Mullineux were showing a range of wines, and they were all quite lovely, as you’d expect. The Granite Syrah 2014 and Quartz Chenin Blanc 2016 particularly impressed.
Carolyn Martin was pouring the Creation Wines from Hemel-en-Aarde, and I was quite taken by the pure 2017 Viognier and the beautifully focused, clean 2017 Pinot Noir. The Chardonnays were nice but perhaps a bit too young, made in a taut, precise style.
It was great to try the wines from Alessandro Veglio, a talented young winemaker in Barolo. His uncle, Mauro Veglio, recently suggested re-forming the original family domaine and letting Alessandro run things, which means that the Alessandro Veglio label will be retired. These are very good modern-style Piedmont wines with real personality.
After the tasting, we headed back to Janne and Dag’s summer home on the fjord, for a barbecue and some lovely wines. We got to taste whale, too: grilled briefly at high temperature so that the inside was still pink, it was delicious. Much nicer than I was expecting, with lovely texture like a really good, tender fillet of beef. I’m not sure I’m very comfortable with the idea of whaling, even if it is done sustainably, but it was an interesting experience to taste it.