Imagine this scenario: You are in the restaurant at Comwell Sorø under the thatched roof and enjoying a glass of fresh Solaris Sorana white wine. Outside the window is the vineyard where the Solaris grapes in your wine glass are grown and harvested.
How do you run a hotel, including a vineyard and wine harvest? Kuno Junker, Hotel Manager at Comwell Sorø, talks about the wine project of Sorø Solaris Sorana, which has gone strong since the first harvest arrived at the hotel in 2018.
By Maja Spangsberg Krogstrup
The Vintage at the Hotel
Autumn 2022: On an early morning in October, the grapevines at Comwell Sorø are teeming with Solaris grapes - right now is the time to harvest. For many weeks leading up to this chosen day, the acidity and sweetness have been measured in the grapes - and taste tested.
True to tradition, there is plenty of coffee on the jugs and the harvest's helping hands are ready to assist Jens Peter, Comwell Sorø's caretaker, handyman and self-taught wine farmer, with the harvest efforts. The bunches must be cut from the vines, which must be collected in boxes and transported to the vineyard for the juicing and vinification to begin immediately.
The harvest was done quickly this year due to the immense help from all the volunteers, which counted apprentice waiters and -chefs from Comwell Sorø and other nearby Comwell hotels, former colleagues from Comwell Sorø and students from ZBC Slagelse. Everyone taking part knows that this wine harvest is a very unique experience.
Wine in a Nordic Climate
Denmark is not a country you normally associate with wine production. But the Solaris grape is well-suited to the temperate Nordic climate.
It was not given from the start that delicious wine would come from the grapes at Comwell Sorø. When the field was laid out in 2016 wine production was not a given plan. After just a couple of years, the grapes showed to be of very high quality, and thus, wine production was obvious. In the hot summer of 2018, the grapes grew ripe and juicy in record time, and Comwell Sorø decided to go all in on the Solaris wine project.
"When you make a ton of grapes with minimal effort it holds great potential. We had the choice of whether to press, eat or make vinegar from the grapes. But we thought it was the most fun to make some really good wine. Fortunately, it went well and exceeded all expectations.” says Kuno, smiling:
"It's something special to have a glass of wine out in the sun in the vineyard where it was grown - and hear the story of what we did when we stood in our rubber boots in September or October and harvested the grapes," says Kuno Junker.
It Doesn't get More From the Ground to the Table
Throughout the year, waiters and chefs are out taking care of the vineyard. They pick leaves, tie the vines on strings, and taste the grapes when they emerge and grow in June and July.
"The vineyard also attracts skilled staff with an interest in gastronomy - and this provides a high standard in our kitchen and restaurant," says Kuno.
Kuno Junker points out that the employees at the hotel go out to greet the vines excited to follow the development of the grapes.
"Running a hotel and a vineyard at the same time creates a synergy between the physical production and the knowledge that our employees convey to our guests about the wine. It is completely from scratch: First, we have a plant and the harvest ends up in a bottle, which we can serve to our guests. It doesn't get more from the ground to the table," explains Kuno.
Every year, Kuno and his team have to decide what to do with the year's vintage. They share the experience with other Danish wineries and evaluate based on taste tests of previous years' wines, counting both sparkling wine and white wine - and then they develop the product by looking at the facts in the playbook, which tells about the year's turn, wind and weather on the small, sunny Solaris field.
A Gift to Inherit a Vineyard
If you ask Kuno what it is like to run a hotel - and also be responsible for a vineyard, he is positive that it is the perfect combination for him and that he is in the right place.
"The wine helps to keep me down to earth." says Kuno, who has many years of 'Food & Beverage experience from working on the floor in restaurants and bars, and as a former Restaurant Manager.
"As a Hotel Manager, I think it was a gift to inherit a vineyard," says Kuno, laughing. "After all, it adds some spice to the hotel operation to look after a vineyard like a small farm and find out what should happen with this product," says Kuno and points out that he is lucky to have the caretaker, Jens Peter, who has become a bit of a wine farmer at Comwell Sorø, where they are constantly learning new things and refining their wine growing methods.
Sustainable and Self-sufficient Wine Production
“When it comes to wine, we can say that we are a self-sufficient farm,” says Kuno, laughing, adding that the 2022 vintage of over 1,100 bottles of white wine will be available at other Comwell hotels for the first time.
Despite the modest production, the return is priceless compared to the pride and joy it creates to be able to give guests at Comwell a unique experience with wine tasting of the hotel's harvest.
"It is great that our wine can be poured into glasses at several Comwell hotels around the country," says Kuno with a smile, and also highlights the benefits of local wine production from a sustainability perspective, which everyone in the Comwell Group is working to promote more and more in all areas of hotel operations.
"It doesn't get more sustainable. We produce locally and without large machines and chemical sprays. The advantage of harvesting wine in our backyard is also that we save CO2 on wine transport from the South of France. We send the grapes to Funen – and then we bring the wine bottles home to the hotel ourselves when they are ready.” says Kuno, who can't wait to taste the first bottle of self-produced Sorø Solaris wine with his team. Every year he is anticipating this day like a child for Christmas Eve.