8: the consultants
Perhaps the most common way for a vigneron to make the
transition from conventional or organic viticulture to biodynamics
is by hiring a consultant, and Jacques Mell may well be the first
flying biodynamic consultant in Europe. At any one time he consults
for around 25 growers, and in addition to his contracts in France,
he currently has three clients in Italy, although he can’t give
names because of confidentiality clauses (one is based in Brescia,
one in Verona and Sicily, and the third is in Etna).
Trained as a lawyer, Mell discovered organic agriculture in
1967 through his involvement in beekeeping, and then found
biodynamics 10 years later. He formed his own consultancy in 1989.
At this time there were only six winegrowers who practiced
biodynamics in France; now he estimates that there are over 100
(Demeter alone currently have 56 certified vignerons on their
books). Mell deals with general agriculture as well as winegrowing,
although it's the latter that is currently growing fastest. To hire
his services would cost some €1500 a year, which seems reasonable.
‘My aim is to make it affordable’, Mell explains. ‘It is not
just something for the rich farmers’. He is also the secretary of Demeter
Mell is keen to
point out that this is the first time in history that people have
had the choice between three types of agriculture: conventional
(with its reliance on chemicals), organics and biodynamics. ‘It is
very interesting’, says Mell, ‘because each can choose in
complete freedom.’ He’s seeing more conversion to biodynamics in
wine growing than general agriculture. ‘9 out of 10 people who
change to it are wine growers’, he points out.
One of Mell’s clients is Francis Boulard of Champagne
Raymond Boulard. Boulard is not yet fully biodynamic, but he has
been curious enough to experiment with part of his production (last
year, 2002, around 1 hectare) to see what difference biodynamics
makes. Two years in to this trial, he has noted consistent
improvements in the plot he has farmed this way, and he plans to
continue with it.
Boulard tells me that he is one of the growers
participating in a five year trial that has was initiated in spring
2002 by the CIVC (the official body that looks after the Champagne
region). They are systematically comparing three different
viticultural regimes: organic, lutte raisonée (an integrated
approach with limited, selectively targeted chemical inputs) and
biodynamics. According to Boulard, the CIVC are taking samples of
soils and grapes, and then comparing finished wines. It will be
fascinating to see the results of this experiment, but the CIVC
won’t comment on it until all the results are in.
I asked Mell why there is still a reliance on copper
fungicide treatments in biodynamics. Isn't that admitting that
biodynamics doesn't work properly if chemical means are still needed
to combat disease? His explanation was as graphic as it was
unusual. ‘In vineyards, vines are usually there for many years.
There is no crop rotation. If you grow a plant yourself and use your
own excrement to fertilize it the plant will eventually become ill
and you will become ill also if you eat it. Vines stay in the same
soil year after year so they are living on their own excrement. They
become feeble because there is no reviving of the soil, and this
weakens them. They are in a state of weakness where they are liable
There are a number of biodynamic consultants at work, not
just in Europe but also in the USA – Alan York is probably the
most visible for his work in California. Frequently, though,
biodynamics spreads through personal contact between growers. As one
adopts it, and finds that it works, then they share their knowledge
with other growers who take an interest in this new way of growing.
Either way, biodynamics seems to be growing as a movement, driven
largely by the enthusiasm of both individual growers and also
consultants like Jacques Mell.
Other topics in
2, what is biodynamics?
3, who is doing it?
4, are you certifiable?
5, an audience with Nicolas Joly
6, Alvaro Espinoza, biodynamics in the new world
7, biodynamics in action - a visit with James Millton
8, the consultants
9, bringing together biodynamics and mainstream science
10, interview with Monty Waldin