|See also: Biodynamic
wine -- the wineanorak's guide. A major series exploring
biodynamic wine, and The wines of Millton Vineyards,
Gisborne, New Zealand.
I imagine that most of you will be familiar
with the concept of biodynamic wine, and that a good proportion of you will have even
drunk some. One retailer, organic specialist Vintage Roots, reckons the
term 'biodynamic' has become well accepted enough by the wine buying public
for it to be a useful marketing term: the 40 or so biodynamic wines they list are identified in the
Vintage Roots catalogue by a special symbol.
I find it surprising that
Biodynamism has become so widely accepted in wine circles, because the underlying
principles are extremely unusual to those of us used to a scientific
worldview. It is a sort of highly refined version of organic
agriculture blended with esoteric philosophy of life forces and
planetary influences. There are a number of leading
producers who, since adopting biodynamic principles, have improved the quality of their
wines markedly -- and some of these, such as Huet (Vouvray), Joly (Savennières), Leroy
(Burgundy), Leflaive (Burgundy), Chapoutier (Rhone) and Kreydenweiss (Alsace), are among
the best in their respective appellations.
So, in a spirit of open-minded enquiry, I
posed some thorny questions to one of the best known 'new world' proponents of biodynamics
-- James Millton of The Millton Vineyard in Gisborne, New Zealand. I've
drunk his wines on a number of occasions previously and been pretty impressed: in the UK, the Te Arai Vineyard Chenin
Blanc has been stocked by Tesco, and organic wine specialists Vinceremos carry several more of
Wineanorak (WA): How much of the underlying
anthroposophical philosophy do you adhere to?
James Millton (JM): I am not adhering to the
underlying anthroposophical philosophy, but work with the total overview. That is, I eat
meat, drink far too much wine (alcohol), but firmly adhere to the three-folding social
order requirements of environmental, social and financial sustainability. Deep down there
is a seed in all of us that can only really germinate when we take notice and adhere to
the understanding that the nutritional value of (bio-dynamic) food gives us the ability to
understand ourselves and others better.
WA: Do you think that the more esoteric aspects
of biodynamism are absolutely necessary (such as the ashing of pests and timing
interventions on the basis of the alignment of planets)?
aspects? Well, they give answers to the questions that enlightened 'organic' growers are
left with when dealing with the commercial problems that the chemical inputs from former
practices have created. They can see that certain things can be 'gotten rid' of. However,
they are there because of an imbalance and (after seven years) bio-dynamic activity will
help to bring about that balance without the need to ash, etc. The planets? One can read
it on the calendar, look at it in the night sky and then feel it, as one's relationship
with the land strengthens. The planets are very important and we are most probably the
only mammals who do not 'feel' these activities. Why does NASA spend trillions of dollars
searching for life out there when everyday a biodynamic practitioner works with
the life they know that exists. If they could take just 10% of that budget and put it into
research for health, education and nutrition of our children, what a better 'life' we
would all enjoy.
WA: Is it enough just to
follow 'good farming' principles, with respect for the soil, that are at the heart of the
JM: To be a good
biodynamic farmer one has to be a very, very good farmer.
WA: With respect, to a
scientifically trained mind, some of the principles of biodynamism might appear a little
odd. How do you respond to critics who suggest this?
trained mind? We are born with innate abilities. Present education reduces our senses and
makes us dumb. Science therefore is always innocent until proven guilty. The results of
what is experimented with in the laboratory are totally different when put out into the
kingdom of nature. My response? Look at the big picture (professional networking) and
continue to understand before monitoring the single reaction in order to make a
conclusion. What are the results of all this research for? Are they making the world a
better place? If one has a health problem, science will fix it from the front, but seldom
asks what it is that this person may have done to incur this problem in the first place
and adjust these inputs.
My tasting notes of Millton
Millton Chenin Blanc 1998, Te Arai Vineyard,
Biodynamically produced wine from a 20
established in 1981. This was barrel fermented in 600 litre barrels. Pale yellow/gold.
Lifted, creamy nose with a touch of honey and a slight smokiness. On palate there is soft,
smoky fruit with some fatness and spice from the oak. Creamy and toasty, this is a rich
savoury wine with a lovely soft texture and good intensity. The firm acidity suggests that
this wine may develop further. Well priced. (£7.99, Tesco)
Millton Lightly Oaked Chardonnay 1999, Gisborne
This has seen 5 months in oak. Fresh, clean nose; fruity and fresh on palate, but
a little simple at present. Good. (Vinceremos)
Millton Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 1998, Gisborne
From a New Zealand's best known biodynamic producer, this is quite restrained on
the nose, but it has a great impact on the palate, showing flavours of rich, nutty, bready
flavours. Complex and seamless, this is a very classy Chardonnay: subtle and restrained.
Very good/excellent (£8.99 Tesco, Vinceremos)
Millton Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 Te Arai Vineyard, Gisborne
Lovely rich, ripe nose with a leafy edge. Great concentration on the palate, with
a rich, ripe character and a menthol edge, with some tannins. Very good/excellent.
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