Meet our new Corporate Member at SACC San Diego - Viking Spirits!
We made an interview with Daniel Borg about his journey with viking spirits and what they have accomplished.
Tell us about yourself and your company Viking Spirits?
I was born and raised in Östersund, Sweden. By the time I finished my (mandatory at the time) military service in my hometown, I left to start a master’s degree in applied physics and electrical engineering at Linköping institute of technology. In my last year of studying I was given the opportunity to work on my master’s thesis at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. I instantly fell in love with the beauty of what northern California had to offer, from Lake Tahoe to the beaches of Carmel and Monterey. When I finished my thesis, I moved back to Sweden and shortly after started working for a semiconductor company in Stockholm specialized in developing microchips for implantable medical devices. The company also had an office in San Diego, where I was later offered to relocate and brought my wife to begin a new life in the US.
Viking Spirits is an import and wholesale company, based in Sorrento Valley, CA. It was founded in April 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic, we initially started selling Scandinavian wine and spirits through an online retail partner called Speakeasy Co. They facilitate a direct-to-consumer platform where customers from nearly all over the US can purchase our products and have it shipped to their doorsteps. More recently, we’ve also started to reach out to liquor stores, bars, grocery stores and restaurants in southern california and our presence is growing. Our full list of retail stores can be found on our website.
What was the inspiration behind the start of Viking Spirits? How did you come up with the idea to start this company?
Scandinavian wine and liquor have always been hard to come by in the U.S. and it’s especially during the holidays when I’m looking for a mulled wine (glögg) or an aquavit that the realization sets in. The situation has not improved much over the years. I’ve always been an entrepreneur by heart and dreamt about starting my own business someday in the future. Where there’s a problem I usually try to find a solution.It was during a midsummer’s eve party in Östersund that a friend, who used to work at Savhuset at the time, had brought a few bottles of sparkling wine. He said it was made locally, but obviously not from grapes since it would be much too far up north for any kind of grapes to survive. Instead, this wine is made from the sap of birch trees growing in the region outside my home town and it is called Sav Sparkling. Of course I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to taste it, even though I wasn’t expecting anything sensational since birch tree sap is not something you associate with wine. To my surprise, I was finding the taste quite similar to a dry champagne. The notes of green apples and birch, with a light body, captured my interest.
On my trip back to San Diego I had packed my suitcases with several bottles of Sav Sparkling to introduce to my friends in California. The response was overwhelmingly positive, which triggered me to start looking into the possibility of importing this wine.
My long time friend and former colleague, Daniel Hoggar, is a great listener to many of my wild ideas. We usually catch up for lunch and sometimes discuss possible business prospects. It was during one of these lunches when I presented the idea of starting an import business together with focus on bringing premium Scandinavian wine and spirits into the U.S. Although he was not familiar with the product yet, he didn’t dismiss it either. Together we worked through the process of how to acquire federal permits, ABC licensing, warehousing, etc. We read books about starting a wine import company to learn about the wine business. As the business plan began to crystallize, we agreed to form a company. This was the beginning of Viking Spirits, Inc. and we’re equal co-owners in the company.
Why did you decide to expand to the United States?
The wine and spirits market here in the US is huge. With 250M potential customers, it’s an enormous opportunity. Although imported wine only makes up a fraction of the total wine market here, there’s still many opportunities.
Can you tell me more about Viking Spirits products?
All of our products are made in Scandinavia. The environmental impact of wine and spirits production can be significant if not managed correctly. We therefore only select partners with sustainable business practices, where for example locally sourced products are being used to minimize the impact on the environment.
Peter Mosten at Savhuset Åre AB has released several new products over the years and we plan on continuing making them available in the U.S. Needless to say, all of their products are quite unique products made from birch tree sap instead of grapes. Their first product, Sav Sparkling, was entered into the San Diego International Wine & Spirits challenge in 2021. It was awarded a gold medal and given 92 points by the judging committee, which is a testament to the quality of this product.
This year we’ll also have a glögg called Sav Glöd available for the holiday season. It can be enjoyed either cold as an aperitif or warm with a spoon of raisins and almonds. Along with that we’ll also have a new sparkling wine called Sav Snö, named after the Swedish snow, with added natural flavors of ginger, angelica root, citrus, and more.
Our friends at Tevsjö Mill & Distillery have supplied us with a selection of award winning craft gin, aquavit, vodka and absinthe. The owners, Jonas and Anna Larsson are very conscientious about the environment and take pride in their own model of ensuring complete transparency and traceability, for example from where the wheat comes from, when and by whom it was farmed, etc. - they call it the Tevsjö model.
More recently we have started a collaboration with Göran and Ulrika Amnegård at Blaxsta Vingård in Flen, which is about 2 hours southwest from Stockholm. It’s one and the only vineyard in Sweden that grows unmodified traditional vitis vinifera. This allows them to compete on the international stage in the world championship for best wine. Among many of their products, the flagship wine is an Icewine from 2016 that has won double gold in wine world championships and is rated at 99.3p by Robert Parker. Our partnership with Blaxsta gives us exclusive rights to import their brands into the U.S. and we can’t wait to bring their products over here.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge with importing and selling your items from the Nordics to the U.S. market?
The biggest challenge at the moment is something we share with most other importers; shipping delays and supply shortages are affecting the retail industry in one way or another. Due to the war in Ukraine, our suppliers are short on glass bottles since Ukraine is Europe's major glass bottle supplier that almost everyone relies on.
For wine, in general I would say that it can be difficult to sell imported wine in the U.S., especially here in California where you’re competing against so many great vineyards. Almost 90% of all wine sales in CA is from domestically produced wine and the rest is from other parts of the world. When you’re trying to enter a marketwith a Scandinavian wine that is solely dominated by wine grapes, usually from known appellations, it’s often met with skepticism in both competitions and wine stores. The well accredited wine magazines, e.g. Wine enthusiast and Wine Spectator, etc., generally only welcome traditional grape wines, vitis vinifera, i.e. fruit wines or hybrids are not welcome. However, wine from Scandinavian is gaining traction with the use of the hybrid Solaris grape and Swedish wine has the potential to become a 100M dollar industry in the near future, much due to the warmer climate as a result of global warming
Most smaller vineyards throughout California are profitable because they get a steady stream of visitors stopping by for a wine tasting. If they like the wine, they may end up buying a bottle or two, which sustains the business for the vineyard. Being a wine importer and wholesaler, however, we’re bound by the antiquated prohibition rules that established the three tier system (importer, wholesaler, and retail). In essence, as an importer, you’re not allowed to directly sell or offer tastings to consumers without going through a retailer or restaurant/bar. Another way is to participate as a vendor at festivals or other sponsored events, which can be costly with uncertain ROI.
With liquor it’s somewhat of a different story. It helps having brands that have earned their ranks in notorious spirits competitions. Our interest is in selling craft spirits from smaller distilleries where there’s a uniqueness and authenticity in each brand. This ensures that our customers keep coming back for more, instead of settling for the old established brands.
Thanks to the power of social media, we have found a clientele who are particularly interested in Scandinavian products. Through our online retail partner, Speakeasy Co., we have access to an enormous market across 45 states, but the challenge is to reach the right consumer with the right interests. It’s therefore important to have a good conversion tracking in place so that you can choose where to spend your efforts.
Which are the best-selling items, and is there any difference in the best sellers in Sweden vs in the United States?
Our first product was Sav Sparking and it’s the product we have the highest sale from. Today we have 4 Sav brands in our portfolio, which includes two sparkling wines, one still wine and a glögg. We only sell and operate in the U.S.
If you could recommend one drink to a friend, which one would it be?
My favorite drink is G&T, but with a nice twist. The Gin Havtorn from Tevsjö distillery can easily stand on its own, but mixing it with an Elderflower tonic brings it to the next level and I would serve it to any of my friends.
Three fast questions:
What is your personal favorite item that you sell?
The Ragnarök Gin, partly because of the name and how it represents our company, but also because it’s a gorgeous bottle with an amazing gin.
Spirits or wine?
Wine! I’m a wine drinker myself, not by volume, but by quality. I enjoy tasting different kinds of wine and hearing the story behind them.
Where can one buy your items?
Taste of Denmark, in Hillcrest
Tip Top Meats, in Carlsbad
Poway Liquor & Deli, in Poway
Norway Hall Foundation, in Vista
Holiday Liquor & Wine, in Vista
THE SWEDISH AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE IN SAN DIEGO
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