It is September and you overlook an impressive vineyard from your holiday chalet. 8,000 vines are full of ripe grapes. You are enjoying the late summer sun, wineglass in hand, and feel like a God in France. But the truth is, you are in Wognum in the Medemblik area.
“People come here from all over the world, from local ladies’ clubs to Middle-Eastern sheikhs and everyone is happy here. The tranquillity of this place is very special”, says Siem Loos.
Siem and his wife Ada have been the proud owners of the family-run business Saalhof since 2006. The Loos family, with four kids, is very close. It is not without cause that son Ben and daughter Celine play an important part in this ‘agriturismo’. A term that originated in Italy and means so much as farmer's business, including food, education and accommodation options. In this setting, Saalhof is unique in the Netherlands.
Every member of the Loos family works independently and carries responsibility for their own department within the company. Together they strengthen each other. Siem and Ada run the bed and breakfast, the land and the wine. Celine organises gatherings at the only remaining historic greenhouse on the estate. Siem restored the greenhouse in its original style. “As soon as you walk in, you feel the unique atmosphere. The distinct light makes the greenhouse shine”, says Siem enthusiastically. Right between the vines, Saalig restaurant boasts a phenomenal location. The restaurant is operated by Ben and of course it serves their own wine. In addition to the menu, Ben regularly organises lavish meals. The pots and bottles are put on the table and you eat whatever is served. This is how the wine farmers used to thank the workers for their hard labour.
Siem also ran a painting company until 2005 and his wife Ada operated the painter’s store. The first vines were already growing in their garden. They had a couple of years to go until their retirement and were at a crossroads in their lives. The couple took a risk and hiked all the way to Santiago de Compostella. A 3,000 km hike that they completed in 150 days. As they were walking by the French vineyards, they decided to shake things up. Siem and Ada, West-Frisians through and through, decided to bring a bit of France to the Netherlands and pick up wine growing professionally. The Saal family's house and estate in Wognum had been up for sale for a while. They had been growing grapes for consumption here since 1920. Unfortunately deterioration had set in and everything had been covered in weeds. They concluded “If we can hike for thousands of kilometres with nothing more than a backpack, we can certainly turn this into something nice”.
Saalhof is the only place in this part of West-Friesland where home-made wine is grown in accordance with organic guidelines. Dutch wine has a slightly lower alcohol percentage than foreign wines but other than that, there is no significant difference. Saalhof produces white, red, pink and sparkling wine. The latter is justifiably called ‘The Miracle of West-Friesland’. Ada: “We don’t feel like quitting at all. We are never bored. People visit us from all over the world. As long as we’re healthy, we will continue to forge plans for the future. Just like most West-Frisians, we are hard working people who love the outdoors. We cannot imagine moving into a small apartment! We actually want to hike to Rome one day, and who knows what kind of ideas will surface then!”
Saalhof visitors don't just visit for the vineyard, but for the environment itself as well. The West-Frisian region is known for its authentic Dutch landscape, the typical ribbon-shaped villages and their gorgeous monumental cheese-cover farmhouses. Thanks to the large number of bicycle routes, this forms the ideal base for exploring the region.