The cow’s horn is a good source of calcium, James Millton tells me one chilly autumn morning in Gisborne as we stand surrounded by his golden-brown cows.
We’re here to taste wine but, this being the beginning of the day, Millton leaves no patch of soil (from which the wine comes) unturned. And these cows are important. They are biodynamic. Their dung is an invaluable source of “good soil” for Millton’s vineyards on the North Island of New Zealand. His quest is to make the best wine he can, adhering to Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s (1861–1925) biodynamic growing techniques.
I’m open to what is often dismissed as mumbo jumbo. Even Millton claims to neither fully understand nor be able to explain how biodynamics works, but he knows it does.
When Millton and his wife and business partner, Annie, founded Millton Vineyards & Winery in 1983, they got a dressing-down from some stalwarts in the wine industry for being “hippie winemakers”. Nearly three decades later, the Milltons’ all care and total responsibility to the land has seen them gain kudos for understanding biodynamics, not only in New Zealand but also around the world.
Commercial herbicides and fungicides are not permitted on any Millton vineyard. The potent fertilisers they use come from their own biodynamic cows and are treated to a convoluted biodynamic process before being sprayed. In the early days passers-by would lean on the Milltons’ fence and tell them they were mad for dropping the traditional spraying regimens adopted by the wine industry. Now the wine industry’s guiding body is systematically phasing out its own hitherto recommended spraying programs.
Demand for “green” wine grows as the world’s green machine winds itself tighter. Because he has been walking a greener path for nearly three decades, Millton says it’s almost a full-time job keeping biodynamic enthusiasts at bay; he is constantly assailed with phone calls, emails and invitations to speak about and explain biodynamics.
For the Milltons, in the beginning it was as much about making the best wine they could. Now it’s also about being in harmony with the land and keeping “dis-ease” away from where they live and the wines they make.
Other biodynamic wine producers around the world include: New Zealand – Felton Road, Pyramid Valley, Richmond Plains, Rippon, Seresin; US – Bonny Doon; France – Chapoutier, Domaine Weinbach, Domaine Albert Mann.