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Biodynamic Winemaking with James Millton and Anna Flowerday
What is the simplest way you can explain biodynamic winemaking to someone who has never been exposed to it before?
It’s old school farming, honestly that’s the easiest way to explain it. People used to farm by the moon calendar, they used to use stuff like cover crops. We’re just working with nature instead of against it. It’s not some cooky dancing around the moon naked kind of stuff… we do a lot of the same things my Grandad did in his vineyard, we just forgot how to do it for about 50 years in the middle!
Bio means life and dynamic means energy; so it’s about life energy and it’s about things that are picked up.
What do you think the main challenges are for winemakers or owners when considering converting to biodynamic farming?
I think too many people are afraid that their fruit will all turn rotten and fall on the ground but actually part of what you’re doing is encouraging the vine’s natural resilience and resistance. What we’ve seen farming organically is the soil being alive and the vines getting what they need; they’re existing in their little happy place!
Biodynamic is about opportunities. Conventionalists would say it’s a challenge whereas we say wow look at how many doors are open – and also you have to forget everything you learnt at University!
What is one of the key advantages that making your wine by biodynamic practises gives you?
The thing that made us go that way was we kept trying these wines from elsewhere that had this energy and connection we weren’t getting from non organic wines. I guess it’s because they grow in living soil, not in sterile hydroponics. And of course, we live on our property, it’s our backyard, my kid’s playground… they don’t eat dirt anymore but when they used to…
It’s being concluded that after at least 28 years of Biodynamic practice you get a texture in the wine that you don’t see in other wines. This texture comes from micronised fungi in the soil and the polyphenols in the wine which create intrigue to the palate and joy to the eye. There’s energy and character in biodynamic wines that other wines don’t carry because they are restricted with control and competition, whereas we look at diversity and cooperation.
Who do you most admire in the world of wine and why?
Woah that’s hard! To be honest – James Millton. He’s so generous with his knowledge. And James and Annie, they built it all from scratch! When James started things were different; when we started it was 15 years ago and biodynamic was already a movement, there was momentum, enough numbers. But when he started everyone thought he was certifiably bonkers; and now we’re all certifiably bonkers!!
I love the wines from Domaine Tempier in Bardol, and of course anyone from Savennières where they grow Chenin Blanc! And in Germany, where the next generation are starting to make really interesting skin fermented Rieslings.
What wine variety are you most excited about for its future in NZ?
This is like asking which kid is my favourite! (Bearing in mind Anna is wearing a Sauvignon Blanc sexy as f**k t-shirt) I think I have to say Sauvignon Blanc. I’m excited about where to from here… my favourite thing is showing it to people who say “I don’t really like Sauv anymore but I really like that”. I want to restore people’s faith in it. There’s a reason why it all happened and if you give it love, it will give it back in spades.
Chenin Blanc because I’m a virgo and I like things in order. Chenin Blanc is the most structured wine from a grape variety you can grow (Cabernet Franc would be the other). Also it can be fizzy, not so fizzy, dry, a little bit dry, sweet; it’s very diverse and it’s delicious!
Is there a specific wine region that excels at biodynamic winemaking that you benchmark your wines against?
Yes for us personally it would probably be Alsace which I think flies under the radar a bit. Everyone automatically thinks of Burgundy but there are more certified biodynamic producers in Alsace. They have small, family owned vineyards where people have seen the degradation of their land and used biodynamic to pull it back; they’re making a wave from a small pool.
You have to look for solid stones like calcium and shiny stones like quartz. You look at places like the South of France, Saint-Emilion compared to Bordeaux. Calcium is the skeleton, the foundation for making it and quartz gives it the air and light and perfume; where you can find that – the Loire Valley, just have to go to Anjou.
Do you have any biodynamic wines from Australia that you can recommend?
Yes, my hometown McLaren Vale has become a bit of a hotbed, with Yangarra and Gemtree. And Castanga, Julian and his lads do some pretty cool stuff!
Castanga. It’s a moving target! Also Cullen, an iconic producer with great presence.