Patrik Strömsten, perhaps the best sommelier in Sweden, lives highest up and furthest away in Sweden. He loves skiing and life. Maybe that’s why he’s got such a keen nose for wine.

— Might I tempt you with an after-dinner tequila?
— Uh…?
— Quite a pleasant Herradura, aged in oak casks. And, well, don’t take this the wrong way Håkan, but this is completely different to the tequila you used to drink when you were young.

I look at Patrik Strömsten, known as ’Strumpan’, in his blue sommelier’s apron as he smiles at me. I know he’s not trying to trick me, because here at Meteorologen they don’t serve the kind of tequila I used to drink when I was young. But last time I had tequila it ended badly, so…

— Yes, of course. Why not?
— Excellent. You’ll be surprised.
— I’m sure.

Patrik Strömsten is a well-known figure for travellers and skiers at Riksgränsen. Even if he looks like a young lad with his long blond hair and well-trained physique, he’s been here for 25 seasons running. Managing one of the best hotels in Lapland wasn’t always the obvious choice. Strumpan was a promising goalie for Kiruna AIF ice hockey team when a friend asked if he wanted to join him at the Loussavaara ski slope in Kiruna for some skiing. Patrik had never stood on a pair of slalom skis – it wasn’t part of his childhood – but he tagged along anyway. Click, clack went the skis as he put them on. Something else inside of him also went CLICK. He skied just as well as the others, straight away. Then he left them behind.

Patrik 'Strumpan' Strömsten in the Meteorologen wine cellar.

— I don’t know; it was like everything just made perfect sense. I was completely hooked.
Since then Strumpan has skied between 100-200 days per year. Of course he hasn’t always got time to ski eight hours a day, every day. But he’s out in the snow almost daily.

The season after Strumpan had tried skiing for the first time he joined the Kiruna freestyle club. It was cheaper to use the Luossa slope if you were a club member. Mostly he went by himself, but one day someone asked him what he was doing there.

— I’m a member of the mogul club.
— Why aren’t you training with them then?

Strumpan ended up training, and he’d just learnt how to ski. The first competition was a disaster.

— Not that much of a surprise. It was at ‘Hummeln’ in Åre and all I was thinking was: “I’ve never skied anything this steep before”.

It didn’t take him long to improve, though. The next competition he won! He joined the national mogul team for juniors and left school straight away. The high school engineering program was but a memory. Instead he left for Gränsen, took a job washing dishes and all of a sudden felt this was where he belonged. From the sink he watched the waiting team. He knew what his next career step would be – only he was too young to serve people alcohol.

Patrik says he's living the good life in Riksgränsen: 'Everything I love doing is basically in my living room.'

— When I started waiting I thought I knew what to do. I’d seen how the others worked. And heard the way they talked.

But it wasn’t quite that easy. He knew the wine list’s five alternatives by heart. He knew exactly what wine would go with which food and he thought that everything could be solved with charm and confidence. One day he approached a table and asked:

— And what can I tempt you with?
— What Sherries do you have?, said the man at the table.

Sherry wasn’t on the wine list, that much Patrik knew. He wondered if he’d misheard. Perhaps the man had asked for cherries. But they weren’t on the menu either, not even among the desserts.

— It was a surreal conversation. A guy who obviously knew what he was talking about, and a waiter who didn’t know anything but was trying to keep up the pretence.

That evening Patrik took ‘The Big Book on Wine’ home and started studying. He tried drinking and testing. He started to understand. Wine is like skiing – if you want to be good at it you can’t just read about it.

— At parties I’d drink Bordeaux if I was reading about Bordeaux, and Alsace if I was reading about Alsace. People must have thought I was a wine snob, or perhaps just daft.

That evening Patrik took ‘The Big Book on Wine’ home and started studying. He tried drinking and testing. He started to understand. Wine is like skiing – if you want to be good at it you can’t just read about it.

But it worked. When Patrik took the entry test to join the Sommeliers’ Club he was completely self-taught. He nailed the written test and got all the various drinks in the blind test right. He became Sommelier of the Year 2001. He repeated this feat in 2015, which makes him the only member of the Sommeliers’ Club to be voted Sommelier of the Year twice.

— But why Riksgränsen? You could get a job wherever you wanted?
— If you knew how many people ask me that! Sure, I can work wherever I want. But that doesn’t mean that’s where I want to live. One of the things I’ve come to realise is what a good life I have in Riksgränsen.
— I’ve got ski out and ski in. The tracks for mountain biking and trail running begin and finish where I live. Everything I love doing is basically in my living room. It’s only fly-fishing that I have to walk a couple of hundred metres to get to.

Patrik says that wine and everything he likes doing—such as skiing, surfing, biking, trail running and climbing—are part of a package.

— Wine needs nature to make it tasty: a sea, a river, a mountain. And what can you do among mountains, seas and rivers? Well: everything that’s fun!

Patrik is only member of the Sommeliers' Club who has been voted Sommelier of the Year twice.

This much is true: if you live at Meteorologen you’re not going to get any points for staying indoors drinking good wine until you fall over, that’s bad quality of life. Brave the blizzard and go skiing at Nordals, that’s good karma. Then you’ve earned your barrel-aged tequila.

— You enjoyed it, I hope?
— Absolutely fantastic! I’d never have guessed tequila if it had been a blind test.
— No, very few do. The oak barrels make The it smooth, a bit like new skis make bad skiers a bit better. Would you like something else? Perhaps some eau-de-vie?
— Just coffee, please. Tomorrow is a new day and it’s snowing outside.
— Yes, but I’ve got this amazing eau-de-vie from Miguel Torres. It’s been aged…

And as Patrik loses himself in ‘the water of life’, I get lost in his world. I’m thinking that the way he describes wine is how I’d like to describe skiing. It makes you lose your priorities. Because in case you were wondering: of course I had that eau-de-vie and—for sure—it tasted excellent. And the next day as I started walking up Nordalsfjäll I could see that someone else was already there. You can probably guess who it was.

Editors note: Photos where originally taken by David Björkén for Vinguiden’s magazine VGMAG, which we’ve published with their courtesy.

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