Every September, regional newspapers in the Netherlands, just like in other countries, start to buzz with harvest messages. Especially in 2016, for the grape harvest that year promised a lot of good for the quality of the Dutch wine. Every year, Dutch wines get better, as evidenced by numerous international awards.
Viticulture in the Low Countries is not a new phenomenon. The first vineyards were possibly exploited by the Romans, on the slopes of hilly southern Limburg. Unfortunately, we are lacking hard evidence for this. But from the late Middle Ages on, proof for vineyards exists, although the vines usually did not stand in the open field, but in the shelter of city or monastery walls. And in any case, so far north in Europe, probably more vinegar and verjuice was made then wine.
Contemporary Dutch wine emerged in the late sixties of the 20th century, in South Limburg. Slavante and Apostelhoeve were the first vineyards. In the eighties and nineties more pioneers followed. After the turn of the century, the number of hectares further increased, to about 250 in 2015. Vine growing in the northern parts of the Netherlands is mainly possible thanks to the development of new varieties that have greater resistance to fungal diseases, such as Johanniter, Solaris, Souvignier Gris, Cabernet Blanc, Cabernet Cortis, Pinotin and Regent. But Dutch wines are not only made from new grape varieties. Especially in the south Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Müller Thurgau, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are planted. In 2015, the sisters at Sint Catharinadal Convent in Oosterhout planted Gamay, a grape variety well-known from the Beaujolais. The future will tell whether Gamay will ripen so far north.
Vineyards throughout the country
In virtually every province wine is made. Friesland, Groningen and Flevoland in the north have vineyards. In Utrecht and North- and South-Holland you can find them in the polders, and even Wadden Island Texel has a vineyard. The many hours of sunshine in Zeeland led to planting on an old riverbed filled with shells, for example. But most of the vines are in the southern and eastern provinces: Brabant, Limburg, Gelderland and Overijssel. Limburg and Gelderland are the provinces with the most hectares, respectively about 65 and 55. In addition, there are more and more (small) vineyards in large cities, as in the Middle Ages. Approximately 145 vine growers in total are commercially active.
High acidity, sparkling wine
Dutch wines, whether they are made from traditional or new varieties, are characterized by high acidity. This means that there is also potential for good sparkling wine. And in fact, some wineries started with the express aim of making sparkling wines. In general, the white wines are of higher quality than the red, and the wines of the south are better than those of the north. But that is also because in the south, wineries can boast the most and longest experience. Moreover, there are always exceptions. Dutch Pinot Noir for example can be quite good and I have tasted some very good wines from the north.
Tasting Dutch wine
Dutch restaurants luckily also have discovered Dutch wine. More and more high-end establishments have placed one or more local wines on the menu. In the south and east of the country, wine tourism is growing. Cycling and hiking along the vines experiences a growing popularity, as the wineries and wines are becoming better known throughout the country. Wine lovers can easily set out to learn about Dutch wines and have a chat with the winemaker himself. Many vineyards are in beautiful places where you also can enjoy a glass on the terrace.
If you want to know more about Dutch vines and wines, I invite you to read the e-book Discover Dutch Wine, written by Irene de Vette and me. It is available in the Kindle Store. In this e-book you will find lots of background information, interviews with winemakers and sommeliers, numerous facts and special tips from vine to wineglass on Dutch soil. With the aim that on your next visit to the Netherlands, you won’t forget to seek out at least one wine or visit one vineyard!