Wine Facts from Finland
Finns have not traditionally been enthusiastic wine-drinkers; beer is a more popular companion to a family meal in Finland. Recently Finns have however discovered 'European' wine-traditions and consumption of wine is now slowly but steadily increasing. People buy wine especially for special occasions, for example Christmas and independence day. Interest in cooking good meals and matching food and wine is growing. Wine-tasting festivals and "Food and Wine"-fairs are visited by more and more people every year.
A government-controlled company, Alko Oy, has a monopoly in the wine and spirits market in Finland. Beer and other mild beverages are sold in supermarkets, but wine is only sold in Alko. Only people over 18 years of age can buy wine at Alko, and you have to be 20 to buy spirits. Nowadays other companies can import and export alcohol, and sell it to restaurants and bars, but only Alko can sell alcoholic beverages with over 4,7 % alcohol content directly to consumers. Drinks with over 22% alcohol content can not be advertised publicly (this is forbidden by law), and therefore their prices do not even appear on Alko's website.
The selection of wines in Alko is quite large; there are wines from 28 countries. The price range is also wide, although Alko doesn't sell very cheap wines - the cheapest wines cost about 4-5 euros whereas in other countries you can often get a can of table wine (for cooking purposes etc) with 0,5 e.
All alcohol is taxed quite heavily in Finland (supposedly to cover the healthcare costs due to Finns drinking too much). Almost half of the price of a bottle of wine consists of taxes (45 %). This is why travelling to neighboring countries such as Estonia (with a much lower level of taxation) to buy alcohol has become something of a hobby for many Finns. In the year 2004 the Finnish government decided to lower the taxes, but the prices of wine did not change very much. The prices of spirits however dropped about a third. Many people have wondered if this is a sensible way to handle the alcohol issue, but the consequenses remain to be seen. At least the friends of vodka are happy about the change.
Finnish alcohol culture is not very refined compared with Central-European wine culture. Finns tend to go drinking after a hard week at work (Alko makes 50% of a whole week's sales on friday and saturday), whereas the 'European way' would be to drink a glass of wine at mealtimes. A popular way of enjoying alcohol is to drink until you collapse, and on average every Finn consumes almost 1 litres of vodka every week (*). Of course this is not the whole thruth, but compared with other countries Finns certainly do seem to drink hard.
Wine makes up only 15% of the total consumption of alcohol in Finland. Consumption has nevertheless increased 5% since the year 1995, when Finland became a member of the European Union. Wines comprise about 25% of Alko's sales. About 20% of the wine Alko sells is bag-in-box wines.
(*) We have received some questions about this point: some people have been wondering if this can really be true. The approximation is in fact based on the recent statistics by STAKES (The National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health) on alcohol-consumption in the year 2004. According to these statistics, average consumption of 100% alcohol per year was about 11 litres per person including children. So it would be about 14 litres per adult, which means more or less one bottle of vodka per week. Of course it has to be pointed out that it's a small percentage of Finns that really drinks that much.
Most popular wines and wine statistics
The most popular red wines come from Chile, Spain, France and Italy. Together they constitute almost 80 percent of wholesales. Respectively the most sold white wines come from South-Africa, France, Chile and Germany. Statics are from Alko's web pages so wines that are transfered by inviduals from foreign countries are not observed.
Finns prefer wines that cost under 10 euros. About 95 percent of sales come from wines that cost 6-10 euros. You should remember that without taxes the price category would by somewhere under 5 euros. So Finns are not really so ready to invest huge sums of money into their wine enjoyments.
The climate in Finland is not suitable for cultivating grapes (vitis vinifera). There are however about 40 places that make berry wines: gooseberry, raspberry, strawberry and so on. From these berry-wine farms you can buy red wine, white wine, sparkling wine and all sorts of berry liqueurs. Usually berry-wine farms make most of their income from tourism, and the actual production of wine is not very profitable.
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