After a week of gentle exploring and lazing on sunny beaches around the north of Jutland, we again headed back south of Aalborg, to the area near Svenstrup. It was here we had our second WorkAway project lined up to begin, this time volunteering at Guldbæk Vingård,one of the most northern vineyards in the world.
On arrival we were warmly greeted by our host, Jan, and after introductions we were given a whistle-stop tour of the grounds and facilities. His wife Lone would join us later after her return from work at the local kindergarten. We saw their house, storage rooms and wine production areas, alongside the more public face of the business, their beautiful raised conservatory dining area complete with decked verandah. We noticed maps of Greenland and mentioned our recent kayaking trip there; Jan was pleased we knew a little of the country and would later regale us with tales of the frozen north.
Walking through the door of the main house we were met face to face with a musk ox, staring down at us from the wall. We later learned how this was hunted in Greenland and saw the very hairy pelt, now a large rug, in our accommodation. We had offered to live in Benny for our stay, in case other WorkAwayers were visiting, but Jan insisted they have only one couple at a time and that we should use the available separate annex apartment, so we happily agreed. We could spread out and enjoy the comfortable space in our downtime; perfect.
Jan and Lone’s house was constructed based on a Swedish design; angular, spacious rooms with light double-height sloping ceilings inside, tall, full gable windows, walls heavily insulated, underfloor heating ran off biomass pellets, with a focal-point log burner. The rooms were very comfortable spaces to completely relax in, overlooking the garden and nearby woodland, and we loved that they were very generously willing to share the spaces with us.
We worked stripping the vine trunks of excess growth, to help focus the new growth at the top. Our first day in the vineyard was a little damp and rainy, but we still enjoyed the experience of moving along the rows, clearing weeds and ensuring that we carefully removed all unnecessary growth on each vine. We found our own rhythm and personalised technique as we went along, and soon made progress across several large blocks. It felt good to be contributing, even in such a small way, to something we’re quite passionate about – wine.
We spent one other, much sunnier, day re-staking new vines that had recently been planted to replace frost damaged ones. We pushed long twisted-metal bars into the ground near the vine root, and secured this to the existing horizontal wire trellis with a special shaped wire twist. Once the support was fixed, the stalk was then taped and stapled to hold it in place and to defy the wind. We progressed along each row of vines, loving the freshness of the warm air and gentle breeze, with the gentle discipline of the work providing a focus that we’d both missed.
Most days we completed 3-4 hours work in the morning, occasionally at their vineyards on the other side of the village. We’d take ourselves over there in the morning on our bikes, and when lunch time was approaching, we’d cycle out of the vineyards, past the Kingergarten where Lone works, through the village and back home – a simple but fun journey with the anticipation of lunch to come, to satiate hunger earned from working in the fresh, clean air. A beer was usually offered and enjoyed over our tasty cold-table lunch each day. Sometimes beer was even brought to us in the fields; a beer-break treat.
Occasionally we’d nip back over to the vines again in the afternoon, once as we were asked and other times as we were keen to ensure we properly completed a task we’d been working on in the morning. Otherwise we would have the afternoons to ourselves, and we took to wandering local paths in the nearby forests or simply relaxing, whether in our comfortable annex apartment or in the vineyard’s conservatory and spectacular timber verandah, from where they host functions and tastings, overlooking the lush green valley with the dutifully tended vineyards in the background.
There were great stories told over dinner, as we enjoyed the vineyard’s own wines each night. We learned of their time in Greenland, Jan working there as a policeman. Along with two other colleagues Jan was responsible for a jurisdictional area larger than France. Policing this involved helicopters and light aircraft, many of which were maintained from a civilian compound set within the confines of a US military base. We heard stories of conflicting legal entities, as contrary to the expectations of most US army bases around the world, local Greenlandic law remained the ultimate authority inside.
We heard tales of an emergency beacon rescue in north eastern Greenland. Unknown at the time, the beacon had been flippantly initiated, due to encroaching timescales rather than a life-or-death situation. But this put in motion a series of complicated logistics right across the country that, once demanded, couldn’t be reined back in. Undertaking a helicopter rescue to a remote point thousands of kilometres away, over inhospitable ice fields, led to multiple shuttle runs with regular fuel dumps, a process that can take over a week of constant flying and refuelling to finally reach the isolated destination. On this occasion the culprit, safe and secure and only hoping for a lift home, was hit by a huge fine for misuse of his emergency beacon call.
The generosity and openness of our hosts, Jan and Lone, was boundless. They cooked the most sublime food for us, such as barbecued Uruguayan beef loin, chosen to complement their own carefully chosen wines. We felt so spoiled. We started early, as we chatted, tasting wonderful sweet wines served as an aperitif, before enjoying a glass or two of deep, rich reds or a sharp, clean whites, depending on the type of food on offer each night. We tried their apple wine and bubbly fizz variations, loving hearing the story behind each as we sipped. It was a real pleasure to relax in vivacious company.
We met Jan and Lone’s two sons, both of whom live locally and are involved in assisting the vineyard business. They both have their own projects and careers, keeping them very busy. We met Kim, his wife Helle and their three children first. They work in IT, keep dogs and chickens as pets, rear a few cattle for meat, along with numerous other side projects. Dennis and his wife Heidi, along with their kids, run a large farm breeding Icelandic horses, where they also design, produce and sell specialist equine leather products; saddles, bridles, stirrups, all specific for use with Icelandic horses.
Our hosts have lived, and continue to live, interesting and full lives; we heard tales of dancing with the Crown Prince of Denmark, being friends with the Prime Minister, hosting important civil parties in Greenland, investigating crimes, of kayaking, sailing and dog-sledging, and they now run a successful vineyard back in Denmark. Their involvement in the wine industry has led them to travel extensively, to New Zealand and Australia, to California, to Japan, to visit other vineyards, increase their knowledge of wine production and make lots of good friends on their way. But Greenland was the largest and most formative part of their lives, with over 20 years spent in the insular, patriarchal society. It was Greenland where their heart lay, the stories most vivid.
We have struggled to find words for the welcoming generosity of our amiable hosts; everything was just wonderful and the experience of our stay could not have been better. We met three generations of this hospitable, happy Danish family and were deeply honoured to have been invited to so closely share in their lives, if only for a short while. The stories we heard and the times that we had will long linger in our memory.
Thanks so much for everything, Jan & Lone; skål!