Denmark is a captivating Scandinavian nation famous for its history, beautiful landscapes and vibrant contemporary life. It is also ranked as the second happiest country globally. While it may be known for many things, wine production is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, nestled in southern Denmark’s scenic rural landscapes is a vineyard quietly delighting oenophiles with its award-winning cherry wines.
Frederiksdal, founded by Danish farmer Harald Krabbe, is a cherry wine label made with the Danish Stevns cherry, a well-known sour cherry commonly used to make jams and juice. Its naturally high sugar and acid content enriches its flavour, making it ideal for creating wine and liquor.
Known as the Grape of the North, the Stevns cherry thrives along the coastline of Southern Denmark, where the Frederiksdal Estate is located — on the idyllic island of Lolland, about a two-hour drive from Copenhagen. The climate here allows the berries to mature slowly, adding more depth and taste to the cherry. The cool nights develop the acidity, and the light of the long summer days enhances the sugar content of the berry.
Krabbe says: “It’s the terroir of the Stevns cherry, as we call it — the unique taste that derives from the fact that it has found the perfect conditions to grow in Lolland. Its acidity is one-of-a-kind; it is the DNA of our fruit. Nothing else on the planet has this level of acidity. It has been habituated here for millions of years and won’t grow elsewhere.”
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The story of the Frederiksdal Estate goes back centuries. The white main building was erected in 1756, but the place has a history dating back to around 1305. Historically, various royal and noble families and visionary entrepreneurs have owned the estate. The Krabbe family has owned it for three generations, with Harald — as the eldest son — becoming the heir in 2000.
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Over 40 hectares of cherry orchards are on the property, initially planted by Krabbe’s father for selling to cherry juice manufacturers, known for their various health benefits.
However, in 2006, there was a crash in the prices of cherries and the market never quite recovered from that fall. Krabbe was planning to cut down the cherry trees and plant grain instead. But as luck would have it, he met journalist Morten Brink Iwersen and chef Jan Friis Mikkelsen, who inspired a groundbreaking idea to transform the wine industry.
“My father built this orchard as a commodity for factories, but I could see that in the long run, we would never get money for it as it was just too low in value. One day, these two guys tasted the cherries from my field and were blown away by their amazing taste. They suggested making wine, and I thought, why not? On top of that, I could finally escape the free market,” says the 53-year-old.
Wine tasting journey
The problem was the absence of cherry wine production in Denmark. So, the trio embarked on a European wine-tasting journey to learn how to extract similar flavours from sour cherries. After five years of R&D, they found their winning formula.
The cherries are picked in the late stages of summer, typically around August. While this approach may lead to a lower yield, it ensures that the cherries reach their peak ripeness, resulting in a more concentrated flavour in the final wine. Following the harvest, the fruit is transported to the winery, where it undergoes a three-day wild fermentation process, harnessing the natural yeast present in the fruit to yield an intensely powerful and profound flavour.
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After this fermentation period, the hulls and kernels are returned to the plantation for fertiliser, while the semi-fermented cherries continue fermentation in stainless steel tanks. After that, they are aged in oak barrels to develop complex flavours.
Frederiksdal wines are typically medium sweet, with a luscious fruity taste and a robust, bold palate. Resembling a blend of port and red wine, it maintains its unique character. Unlike grape wines, a small serving of cherry wine goes a long way. Once open, Frederiksdal cherry wines can easily last for four to six weeks when kept in the fridge.
Launched in 2006, Frederiksdal boasts approximately eight wines, spanning from fruity and acidic to rich and complex varieties. Several of these wines have earned gold medals in various wine and spirit competitions.
Its signature cherry wine is Rancio, decanted into demi-johns and placed outdoors for at least two years so that sun, rain and cold bring out a richer, caramelised profile. Exceptional, full-bodied and complex, this pairs perfectly with veal, tenderloin, lamb, cheeses, nuts and chocolate.
Its classic full-bodied wine is the Sur Lie, a rich and deeper-tasting wine that has been left to age on spent yeast. The younger vintages provide fresh and subtle fruity notes, while the mature ones provide more complex tones — the perfect complement to chilli crab, among other savoury dishes.
Another winning variant is RØD — crowned Best Danish Sparkling Fruit Wine in 2020 — made of 60% Stevns cherries and 40% Lucas pear. And, if you love a good cocktail, Frederiksdal Liqueur or Vermouth are ideal bases for classic cocktails like the Negroni and Cuba Libre.
For wellness junkies, Krabbe recommends the Organic Cherry Juice, which blends 7% organic sugar and 40% water to make a cordial that is ready to enjoy. Stevns cherries are rich with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, protecting against the free radicals linked to heart disease, cancer and other illnesses. Some customers buy this juice to help them sleep.
Frederiksdal has evolved from a passionate start-up to the largest winery in the Nordic region, shipping globally. It has also become a shining beacon of innovation in fruit wines without abandoning the strong focus on great taste and superior quality. But what gives Krabbe the most pride is how he cares for the planet while caring for his cherry trees.
“We need to do things differently. I have a responsibility to change things and farm more responsibly,” he says.
From a young age, Krabbe always knew he would be a farmer. He was determined to care for the land in a way that would benefit future generations. Before inheriting the Frederiksdal Estate, he worked in agriculture in Africa and opened his eyes to what the climate means for our common and limited resources. Today, Krabbe calls himself an agricultural economist who has a bigger agenda. One of his great ambitions is to show the world that you can cultivate the land responsibly and, at the same time, create a healthy economic business based on good taste. He calls this slow farming.
During the initial years on the property, he established a highly efficient, fully automated farm with an eight-crop rotation. However, Krabbe was not content with his work, adding: “I had tractors driven by GPS and 80-foot sprayers. We could harvest crazy amounts. But all those machines had a combined weight of 20 tonnes. Can you imagine what that does to the worms that live underground?”
He has since sold off the machines and redirected his focus on traditional farming methods, where his crops thrive on biodiversity and very little pesticides. Here, the flowers and the wild herbs grow along the rows of cherry trees, creating a living space for birds and insects, and ultimately also fertilise the plantation and keep the trees healthy.
“I steer away from monoculture — which depletes the soil’s fertility — and grow a wider range of crops that help nourish each other. I’ve also merged my farm with other farmers to reap each other’s natural benefits,” says Krabbe. “I take care of my trees; you can taste it in the wines.”
Although he would like to specialise in viticulture one day, he is not hard-pressed to scale his cherry wine production anytime soon. He claims the Stevns sour cherry is a low-yielding crop, but a handful can substitute four or five kilos of normal cherries. “My first two partners recognised this when trying them. The taste is extremely powerful; it’s the most beautiful thing. You have many other territories that will give you a commodity in kilos, but I don’t care about kilos. My means of measurement is good taste, nothing else.”
His ultimate dream is to farm in a way that puts the planet first but makes him good money, too. “If we succeed in doing this, we would be a very good case study for all other farmers to adopt better practices without hurting the environment. Planting trees, intercropping them with other crops, not killing the insects … the natural way is the best way for our future.”
The climate crisis is a significant concern for farmers like Krabbe, leading him to explore ways to measure carbon footprint.“We should all be able to define this clearly to understand our impact on the environment.”
He adds: “You take care of a plant in the field, and if you do it sufficiently, the plant will say thank you and give you good flavours.”