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Biodynamic wines:
Interview with James Millton
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 these wines.

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)?
JM: Esoteric 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 philosophy?
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?
JM: Scientifically 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 Vineyard wines

Millton Chenin Blanc 1998, Te Arai Vineyard, Gisborne
Biodynamically produced wine from a 20 ha estate 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. (Vinceremos)

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