Monty Waldin on Biodynamics
1) How did you get into Biodynamics?
I discovered Biodynamics in 1993 while working on a Bordeaux vineyard called Château Gamage in St Pey de Castets, near Castillon La Bataille. I had decided getting dirty working in vineyards and wineries was more useful than reading wine magazines concerned more with how wine tasted than how it was grown and made.
This was a time when winemaking in Bordeaux (and elsewhere…) started shifting to a plumper, more ‘Californian’ wine style, in line with the perceived tastes of the then leading wine critic, Robert Parker. I cared little for these wines which I felt were increasingly being engineered by winemaking which covered up deficiencies in the raw material, the grapes. I felt viticultural practices needed addressing so those deficiencies which were becoming more marked could be addressed.
Château Gamage where I was living was a conventional estate run by a couple called Patrick and Béatrice Moulinet. Patrick’s family (his brother was Jean-Daniel) owned Gamage. Patrick had previously worked on the commercial side, in the Bordeaux wine trade, for Alexis Lichine. Via Lichine, Patrick met the modest but highly respected consultant oenologist Marc Quertinier.
Marc would often come to Château Gamage for lunch whilst on his rounds in nearby regions such as Côtes de Castillon, St-Emilion and Fronsac, and he would advise Patrick on the Château Gamage wines. As I was the dogsbody in the Gamage cellar Marc would explain to me what needed to be done, how wine making worked, how oak was best used and so on. He also taught me about wine tasting, tannins and so on.
Marc knew I was interested in more environmentally friendly wine-growing.
He suggested I visit a producer I’d never heard of called Paul Barre of Château La Grave and Château La Fleur-Cailleau in the nearby Fronsac AOC and Canon-Fronsac AOC regions. ‘Barre is doing something which might interest you,’ Marc said, rather gnomically.
So I made an appointment and when I arrived (in Gamage’s rickety white van, Citroen Acadiane) Paul Barre immediately drove me to the local mechanic in his car. This was so I could then drive the van the mechanic had just fixed back to the winery.
Barre’s wines which had an individuality I had rarely found in Bordeaux at that time. I asked Barre what he was doing in the vineyards and eventually he told me he doing something called Biodynamics. I had never heard of this term before. Barre said it was hardly surprising, as only six or so estates in Bordeaux were Biodynamic at the time. The key thing for me is that right from the start it was my tastebuds and not weirdy-beardy Biodynamic connects which suggested Biodynamics was a viable route to better wine quality.
2) Why is Biodynamics so important to you?
Because creating farms, allotments, fields and vineyards by working with–rather than against–nature is what Biodynamics is about and that makes sense to me. Because Biodynamics encourages you to make your landholding self-sufficient and self-sustaining (not alway easy, but a great goal to strive for) and that makes sense to me. And because we are what we eat, and making food good for both body and soul makes sense to me. That is what biodynamics is for me.
3) Why are famous vineyards increasingly going Biodynamic?
Elite vineyards need continually to make those marginal gains in wine quality needed to stay at the top; and to make sure their real estate is left in better shape than they found it for the next generation. Substitute ‘wine quality’ with ‘food quality’ then change ‘winegrower real estate’ for ‘our collective real estate’ (meaning our planet) and you see Biodynamics is capable of making a real difference.