Erik Neilson on October 19, 2017 0 Comments Anyone who is even remotely familiar with Norse mythology has likely heard of “Vinland” at one point in time or another. The “Land of Wine” represents one of the most interesting stories contained in Viking lore, especially given where the area referred to as Vinland is thought to exist today. If you’re unclear on the details of the story, here’s a quick primer on the history of Vinland and what the area means for wine itself. Vinland History: A Tale of Two Sagas In discussing the Vikings’ visit to Vinland, it helps to go back to the first texts to make mention of the fabled area. One can start by investigating the Grænlendinga saga (the “Saga of the Greenlanders”), as well as Eiríks saga rauða (or “Erik the Red’s Saga”). While the two accounts differ from one another somewhat, they both serve as origin stories to the area commonly referred to as Vinland. 15th century map of Vinland. Possibly, the first map of North America. According to legend, Viking Bjarni Herjólfsson was the first European to spot mainland North America after being blown westward on his way to Greenland around the year 985. It is assumed that his sailing route bordered the coast of Eastern Canada, which has led many people to believe that “Vinland” is actually the area which surrounds the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Fast forward to 115 years later, a crew of approximately 35 men led by Leif Eriksson (who happened to be the son of Erik the Red) attempted to find the area first spotted by Herjólfsson, who had returned to Greenland without actually making landfall in Vinland. As Eriksson encountered the coast, he and his crew found a cold, icy wasteland that was essentially uninhabitable. Moving southward, they came upon a much more hospitable spot of land, where a base was eventually built. The surrounding area was said to be rife with high-quality lumber and a plethora of wild grapes, the latter of which influenced the naming of Vinland to a large degree. Numerous expeditions were led to Vinland, with Norse taking up residence in the area and striking up trade deals with native inhabitants. While trade remained amicable for some time, it quickly went in the direction of warfare, leading to the Vikings feeling slightly overpowered and unable to stand their ground. They would eventually leave the area, never to return to Vinland again. Why They Left Vinland Behind Throughout the sagas, Vinland and the surrounding area is described as being characterized by the finest quality lumber in the world, coupled with grapes which grow wildly to produce incredibly high-quality wine. The ostentatious lifestyle of the Viking leaders at the time meant wine and grapes equaled power and control — something prized by those in leadership positions across the world. Why, then, did the Norse decide to abandon Vinland, never to return again? Historians believe that two reasons factored into this decision. For one, the lumber being sourced from Vinland was, of course, high in quality, but it was also thousands of miles away from their home in Greenland. It was much easier for the Vikings to travel back and forth between Greenland and Norway — a much shorter distance, and also home to lumber of excellent quality. The second reason why the Norse decided to abandon Greenland was in large part due to tension with native inhabitants. With a crew of only 30 or so individuals, the Vikings stood absolutely no match for the locals they had come to engage in warfare with. What started as a potentially manageable trade scenario quickly led to dissension, and the small crew decided that returning to Greenland would be a much more logical plan of action than risking life and limb to stay in Vinland. Likely Grape Varietals While it’s impossible to be sure of what grape varietals were making their way into Norse wine in Vinland, it’s possible to make an educated guess when one takes into consideration the likely connection with Nova Scotia (where Vinland is considered to have been located). In this case, there’s a strong chance that the Vikings were drinking wine made with Castel, Cayuga, Vidal Blanc and L’Acadia Blanc — none of which are considered to be household names anywhere in the world. All four of these grapes are hardy and capable of standing up to rugged temperatures, which contributes to the likelihood that they were growing wild in Vinland when the Vikings first arrived. Vinland may be a product of Norse mythology, but there’s no getting around the fact that these trips did happen. Looking to get a taste of what the Vikings may have been drinking around the year 1,000? Take a trip to Nova Scotia and visit one of the area’s many wineries today!