Backyard wine makers in Norway at 60 degrees North
Photo: very local wine called “Côte de Rodeløkka”
The Wine Farm in Rodeløkka
There’s nothing wrong with red or black currants, but grapevines are both more fun and inspire more cooperation. Just ask Olav and Betsy Heen, who make wine from self-grown grapes in Rodeløkka, Oslo.
Olav and Betsy Heen managed to convince their neighbors in Oslo, Norway, to join them in growing grapes on the south facing walls of their houses. The result is a very local wine called “Côte de Rodeløkka”. They’ve had record crops of 75 kilos of grapes between them, but normally end up with 30 – 40 kilos, enough for 25 to 30 litres of wine. At 60 degrees North, comparable to Labrador or Anchorage, cultivating grapes is pretty impressive.
The Wine Farm in Rodeløkka
By Hege Paulsen
Oct 10, 2009
Translated from Norwegian.
There is one thing which makes Betsy and Olav’s garden stand out from most other Norwegian gardens. Everywhere there are long, stout grapevines that do not seem to mind at all having been planted in a country far to the North. A branch drooping with a cluster of dark fruit creeps over the house’s main entrance, on the walls the grape farmers have conjured several kilos of green grapes.
“They’re a bit weak this year, they haven’t received much sun this summer”, sighs Olav Heen, cutting a cluster down. “We’d better cut them down now, before the nights get too cold and makes all our work for naught.”
Heen is the founding member of Les Compagnons de Rodeløkka, the wine club that not only drinks wine, but makes it, too. He became interested in wine and the process of wine making while studying medicine in France. Back home in Norway he tried planting grape pits, but discovered, not unexpectedly, that getting grapes to grow here is difficult.
“Things started moving only after I bought a vine in a nursery and planted it in front of a wall that received lots of sun. I selected a particularly hardy type from France, which probably originates from the Loire. These vines have the advantage that they always yield, even in summers that are nothing but long bouts of rain,” says Heen.
Finding a vine that grows in Norway is one thing, producing your own wine is something else. The grapes were fine, but there was another hurdle. They were too few. That’s why Olav Heen started snooping around his neigbours’ gardens in Rodeløkka.
“I went looking for neighbours with south facing walls and a temperate disposition, and asked them if they would like a vine in their garden. This was in the eighties, and many probably felt producing wine here up north sounded fantastically exotic,” smiles Heen.
Photo: Olav and Betsy Heen
Eight houses in Rodeløkka have vines today, and Olav Heen is still snooping around. He trims the vines several times a year in his neighbours’ gardens. When the grapes are ripe, the neigbours come with baskets full to Olav and Betsy.
“One good year we harvested 75 kilos of grapes, but normally we get 30 or 40 kilos. This is enough for 25 to 30 litres of wine,” says Heen.
He admits that Côte de Rodeløkka is not a wine that makes conesseurs hit the ceiling.
“It’s not a great wine, but it’s potable. Every summer we have a garden party with shrimps and white wine, and drink the wine we’ve made together,” says Heen.
There’s a lot of work behind those 30 bottles of dry, white drops. But there are many rewards, too.
“The wine making has been important for the sense of community here in Rodeløkka. It’s a topic of conversation throughout the year, and having a project together is great. Nobody would think of creating a community co-op for making syrup out of red currants. But if you’re going to make wine, you have no other option but cooperation,” he says.
In addition to the wine, the inhabitants of Rodeløkka have one other thing in common. They live in some of the most charming wooden houses in Oslo
“Most of the houses in Rodeløkka were built around 1860. Because of the fire hazard, there were regulations that prohibited building wooden houses in the town centre, but Rodeløkka lies right outside of that area. It’s like a little village in the city,” says Heen.
The house where he now lives with his wife Betsy, was bought by his grandparparents in 1934.
“The house consisted of five apartments, with an outhouse in the back yard. My grandparents tore down walls and created four separate dwellings out of it. My wife and I have continued the process, and now we are two units.”
For a long time, the idyllic wooden houses were threatened by city planners.
“We were worried about being razed, and that the original wooden houses would be replaced by large apartment blocks. But protests from the community made the politicians change their minds, and today the entire area is designated as a heritage site,” says Heen.
From their balcony on the second floor Mr. and Mrs. Heen have a view over the rooftops of the area and the vines in their own garden. This is where they often wind down in the evenings, sharing a bottle of wine. But an imported one. Côte de Rodeløkka is far too rare for a normal day in October.