Latvia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. Unlikely as it may seem at this latitude (56-57 degrees north), there is such a thing as Latvian wine, made in Latvia from Latvian-grown grapes.
For quite some time, the Latvian vineyard Vīna kalns ('wine hill') held the Guinness World Record as the world's most northerly vineyard (for which official candidates must be open-air and capable of producing marketable grape wines). Lying almost exactly on the 57th northern parallel, it is located in the village of Sabile, the coat of arms of which features a bunch of grapes against a yellow background. Peaches, apricots and walnuts are also grown on the Vīna kalns, confirming there is more to climate and terroir than latitude alone.
When the Lerkekasa vineyard near Gvarv, Norway was planted in 2008, it became the world's most northerly vineyard at an incredible latitude of 59.3 degrees north. In the southern hemisphere, this latitude lies beyond all points of land (other than Antarctica), the nearest being Macquarie Island at 54 degrees, which is classified as 'subantarctic'. With technological and viticultural advances (not to mention the effects of climate change), wine production is creeping further and further towards the poles with each passing year.
Such is the interest in winemaking among certain Latvians that there exists a Latvian Grapegrowers Club, based out of the capital Riga. Although self-confessed amateurs, the more dedicated members of this Latvian wine consortium believe that, with careful vineyard management, they can produce high quality wine. Although the local climate may seem too cold to allow grapes to ripen fully, in warm years such as 2002 and 2003 the potential alcohol of some crops reached 23 Brix.
Wine grape varieties such as Alpha and Zilga are the most commonly used in Latvian winemaking, and various crossings made by local ampelographer Kaspars Skujins are increasingly popular. Skujins-675, for example, has proved very cold-tolerant, and has been warmly adopted in Russia (as Moskovski Ustoitshivoi) and Belarus. It was crossed by Professor Skujins during his work at Moscow's Tymiryazev Agricultural Academy, from Pearl of Csaba (Madeleine Angevine x Courtillier Musque) and the weather-hardy Alpha grape engineered by the University of Minnesota.
Some of the greatest victories over Latvia's cold climate have come from the southern Latgale province, where vigneron Evalds Pupols has experimented with several wine grape varieties. It was in the Pupols vineyard that berries of the Jubilejnaja Novgoroda variety (crossed by Jaan Kivistik of Estonia) reached 23 Brix after the warm summer of 2002. If this kind of sugar level can be reliably achieved, Latvian wine will have a starting point for its journey to quality wine production.