James Millton

In the late 1980s James & Annie Millton’s eponymous vineyard in Gisborne on New Zealand’s north island was among the first half dozen in the world to convert to biodynamics. People often cite the likes of Burgundy’s Lalou Bize-Leroy and the late Anne-Claude Leflaive, or Alsace’s Mark Kreydenweiss and Olivier Humbrecht MW, or Chile’s Alvaro Espinoza as Biodynamic heroes and heroines (there are many others), and rightly so. But I think what James did, where he did it (in Gisborne, a jug wine stronghold), when and how is unique. He is one of biodynamic wine’s most coherent, honest and passionate practitioners and communicators. Here are some of my favourite Millton-isms:

  • “Biodynamics is about working with nature rather than against it. Farming ease, rather fighting dis-ease.”
  • A lack of local schools meant that aged 9 James had to attend a boarding school far from his home. “I had the reading ability of a six year old. While working the 2001 harvest in Burgundy I was asked to name some famous New Zealand writers. I couldn’t name any. Momentarily I felt culturally inadequate. But later I realised that the culture I am involved in, the land, wine, biodynamics and the spiritual things on the outside, is just as significant as art, music or literature, if not more so. It’s not as if I’m a groundkeeper spraying weedkiller on the local car park to keep it clear then coming home at night to recite poems to compensate. I am here to do what I am doing, hoping to leave the land I am responsible for better than when I found it. No one owns the land. The land is ours only to look after for future generations.”
  • Biodynamic compost is made from the leftovers from winemaking (grape-skins, stalks, seeds) and manure from the Millton family’s own herd of cows. “We sensed a change in the feel of our land when the cows arrived. Just their presence. And compost we make from their manure is the keystone to the whole wine-making activity, to our business, our livelihood. When we finish making our compost we say ‘that’s a resource money can’t buy.’ Where else can you have a key resource for free, without having to pay for it?.”
  • “Bees are so important in biodynamics. Bees are the police force for the air and light. With enough bees on your land, the other insects behave as insects, rather than behaving as pests.”
  • “People ask ‘Why are you biodynamic?’ Sometimes I answer by saying ‘Oh, it’s because we just want to make bucket-loads of money!’ That short sentence, while of course not the truth, is enough to satisify an amazing number of people curious about what sort of person you are. It is what they can understand and relate to. But also it is important for us biodynamic wine-growers and farmers to understand that we must be sustainable in the environmental, the social and the financial arenas. It’s no use being green if you are always in the red.