The biodynamic James Millton

Good enough to eat? James Millton kisses a sod from his vineyard (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

James and Annie Millton founded organic and bio-dynamic winemaking in New Zealand when they first harvested their own grapes in 1984. James believes he is one of the 10 original biodynamic winemakers in the world as well as being the first in the Southern Hemisphere.

James founded Certified Organic Winegrowers of New Zealand (COWNZ)

I called James on a root day at Millton Vineyards, interrupting the application of preparation 500 (cow dung that has been buried within a cow horn over winter), which is applied to stimulate the soil biology.

It’s always hard to have an ordered, logical conversation with James because we are both inclined to go off-topic at frequent intervals.

I started by asking if organic and/or bio-dynamic principals produced better wines.

“What is better?” responded James. “What is wine all about,” he added, before telling me that he’d recently judged the Bragatto Wine Awards and was discouraged to find some wines had been over-fined.

“From my point of view over-fining is a fault”.

How do you detect something that isn’t there I asked? James responded by telling me that he can smell fining agents such as gelatine and isinglass, which was news to me.

Perhaps organic wine has a different texture, he ventured cautiously? James didn’t argue with my complaint that I had never come across a serious study that supported the thesis that organic and bio-dynamic winemaking and grape-growing can contribute to wine quality. There is plenty of theory but no science.

We then got onto the topic of orange and natural wines. Two of James’ children are making natural wine.

“Natural wine is gaining so much traction I’m beginning to feel old-fashioned.” Moaned James.

We both agreed that “orange” and “natural” were the new organic. James then defined the various disciplines.

  • Conventional: To make conventional wine you just need to turn up for work.
  • Organic: To make organic wine you need to turn up and be clean in the winery
  • Biodynamic: Need to turn up, be clean and understand the rhythm and harmony of wine-growing and fermentation
  • Natural: Need to turn up, be clean, understand the rhythm and harmony and be very clean.

“Dirty natural wines are completely unforgivable,” said James.

At COWNZ, James set a goal that 20% of New Zealand wine should be certified organic by 20/20.

“It had a nice ring to it but I really think we are going to achieve that target”.

I tried unsuccessfully to explore market trends for organic wines with James. He did say that global disasters are good for business.

“Every time we get a global threat such as Mad Cow Disease, Sars or Chernobyl, sales go up,” claimed James.

It’s almost a case of “don’t panic, drink organic,” I suggested. Perhaps the Trump presidency and North Korea’s nuclear threat will be good for business?

He then talked briefly about synastasia but I couldn’t understand any of it. I Googled “synastasia” after our conversation. I’m not entirely sure but I think it is a Russian pop group.

James concluded our conversation by pointing out, in reference to the youthful support for natural wines, that the values and senses of a 25-year-old are very different to our own values and senses. We have one advantage – wisdom.

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