A guide sits in front of the Haltia entrance, waiting for us to arrive at six. Laura and I have just spent a day at the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia in Espoo (read more about our day here), had a tasty lunch buffet and tuned our senses to nature’s frequency. Now it is time to sharpen our sense of taste and see what kind of flavour is added to wine in a forest environment. I already know that food always tastes better outdoors in nature, so it is easy to imagine that wine can also benefit from these surroundings. I read about the Wine in the Woods experience maybe about a year ago and, as a wine aficionado, I was immediately excited to try this. The tasting is arranged on Friday and Saturday nights and it alternates between red and white wines every weekend. Today is the last Saturday in August, the weather is sunny and we are about to enjoy some red wines. In addition to us, four other visitors are accompanied by our guide.
We get up and head towards an uphill road leading to the parking area of the Folkhälsan Solvalla Sports Institute. I can get up the hill in my electric wheelchair easily, but it is also possible to join the group at the parking area, where you can park your car. We head towards the Maahisenkierros trail, which we visited earlier during the day. We don’t go far into the trail this time, but take a minute to do exercises that evoke our senses led by the guide. We smell, touch, listen and watch. Our sensory path goes along a barrier-free terrain. There are some gentle slopes and some users of manual wheelchairs may need assistance. After about half an hour, we leave the trail and head deeper into the woods. The terrain is more uneven and there are more roots aboveground in the last metres, but my electric wheelchair goes over the low roots easily as long as I watch where I go and select the most even path.
We are greeted by the sommelier Tero Pullinen, who is dressed to impress. He emanates a warm and relaxed atmosphere. We sit by the fireplace. Those of us who can walk sit on wooden benches covered by soft furs. There is plenty of room for me and my electric wheelchair and even more wheelchair users next to the benches. The campfire is not lit as the evening is still warm and bright. However, I can see how atmospheric the environment can be in the dark autumn evenings. Although this evening is about red wines, we start with a French Crémant sparkling wine. The bubbles trigger our taste buds to accept the flavors that are to come, but the sparkling wine itself tastes excellent as well. The sommelier tells us stories that take us to France. We swirl our glasses and compare our experiences with the taste and mouthfeel after swirling the glasses.
After enjoying the sparkling wine, we moved to the actual theme of the evening. We try two red wines, a rosé, and an additional two red wines. They are all carefully selected, sustainably produced wines from around Europe. I have previously taken part in wine tastings at vineyards abroad that only present the wines they produce. This time, the wines are not selected for the purpose of marketing them. Instead, the sommelier wants us to get acquainted with different flavors. An integral part of the Wine in the Woods experience is sustainability, but also the stories behind the wines. This time, they took us to Germany, Spain, Sicily, Austria and Northern Greece. The way the sommelier talks is clear and enthralling. The wine is slowly making us all more relaxed and, although we don’t know each other beforehand, all six of us start interacting more openly. The atmosphere is relaxed all the time and it doesn’t matter if this is your first or tenth wine tasting. There is something for everyone. To accompany the wines, we had some freshly picked blueberries and the tastes of the forest provided by TouchWild: dandelion syrup, spruce sprout syrup, cranberry salt, boletus salt... They give the wines some fascinating aromas. So does the surrounding forest. The wind on your skin, the damp aroma of the forest and the vibrant woods around you. It’s very difficult to put the unique atmosphere provided by the environment into words.
When we are enjoying the last wine, I can already feel it in my head. In a good way, fortunately. You don’t have to drink everything that gets poured into your glass. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to eat well before the tasting. The tasting ends around eight o’clock, we thank Tero and start talking about the possibility of white wine tasting. The guide takes us back to Haltia through the shortest route. I already have a pretty strong need to go to the toilet. Luckily, the accessible toilet upstairs at Haltia is still open. The wine-tasting site has a dry closet, which is not accessible. The Haltia toilet is nearby, fortunately.
Wine in the Woods is one of the most memorable activities I have taken part in. The fact that it is arranged close to the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia is very good in terms of accessibility but also due to the fact that it can be reached with public transport. Bus line 245A operates from Espoo Center (Espoo Keskus) to Haltia. The low-floor bus has a manual ramp at the middle door for those who use aids. The Wine in the Woods experience is arranged from May to the end of September and a few times in October as a special Wine in the Dark Woods event (for private groups also during winter). The tasting area is covered and there are raincoats available if it is raining. This is an excellent experience, regardless of the weather. Tickets are available online. If you use aids or have any other special needs, you should tell about them in advance. An assistant can accompany you for free if they don’t take part in the tasting. If they want to enjoy the wines as well, a regular fee needs to be paid. I warmly recommend this experience!
Wine in the Woods - Red wine tasting
Wine in the Dark Woods
This experience was part of my cooperation with the Sustainable Growth for Tourism: Southern Finland - project. This autumn (2023), I tried out sites and services in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and Turku that have invested in accessibility to tell you more about them. The Sustainable Growth for Tourism project supports the recovery and competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council and the Regional Council of Southwest Finland as part of the measures carried out in 2021–2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. -Sanna Kalmari
Hero Image: Finland Naturally / Retkipaikka