L: David and Paola Cohen picking raspberries at Uotilan Tila / R: David picking fresh spruce tips at the winery / Photo by Victoria Cohen / Photo by Paola Guerrero de Cohen
When David Cohen and his wife, Paola, moved to Finland from Massachusetts in 2008, they were hobbyist winemakers. They decided to run a small country vineyard as a side project.
Their first big challenge? Learning to make wine from berries, due to heavy regulations on producing grape wine in Finland.
Before Finland joined the European Union (EU) in 1995, there was a small number of local vineyards producing berry and grape wines. But during EU negotiations, ministers were presented with a choice: Finland could either be an Arctic country and collect energy subsidies for home heating, or a wine-producing country, which comes with different subsidies.
EU rules dictated it was impossible to be both. Partly bureaucratic and partly diplomatic, this stance was also intended to avoid a rupture with traditional wine-producing nations like France and Italy, whose wine industries are heavily subsidized by the EU.
And so, Finland gave up the right to produce and sell so-called “wine” made from domestic grapes. Instead, it must be labeled a “mild alcoholic beverage fermented from grapes.” Still, few produce it.
Following these EU negotiations, it became legal for anyone to pick the abundant berries indigenous to Finland, inspiring many Finns to produce wine from the fruit they gathered. But, most of what was produced was considered undrinkable by locals. As a consequence, Finnish berry wine quickly acquired a negative image.
“It was boom and bust,” says David of the EU decree. “It killed the industry.”