The Organic Wine Guide by Monty Waldin (1999, Thorsons).

This was the first independent guide about wines produced from organic and biodynamic grapes. The book came about after I had participated in a TV programme made in 1997 by a company called ThreeBM Television based in Beak Street, London. The crew consisted of Dan Korn, Zillah Watson and Emma Bowman, plus Stephen Forster (Lighting Cameraman) and Chris Barker (Recordist). We filmed in Bordeaux (Entre-Deux-Mers, St-Emilion, the Médoc) and Burgundy (where we interviewed soil microbiologist Claude Bourguignon), exploring why French wine-growers were increasingly going organic or Biodynamic. Zillah Watson, who was the producer, put me in contact with her husband Andrew Neather, who was working for environmental group Friends of the Earth (he eventually went on to advise British PM Tony Blair). Thanks to Andrew, Friends of the Earth and Thorsons my first book, The Organic Wine Guide, was commissioned and published.

At the time I was house-sitting for a schoolfriend in Parsons Green, London who had put the house up for sale as he was living in California. My job was to show prospective house buyers around. I’d signed the book contract in late autumn and of course the first person to look round the house decided to buy it. I had to move out but had nowhere to live. So I rented a flat with my then partner (we are still friends) in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain’s sherry region. I knew the area a little, having spent a bit of time there in 1993 when researching the Sherry region (which produces my favourite wines). Even in winter it was warm, rents were low, and the food and wine were exceptional. The flat we rented overlooked the sandy beach and the mouth of the Guadalquiver (Spain’s second longest river) and its constant stream of large container vessels heading to or from Seville. There was no phone connection in our flat, so emailing each chapter of the book meant getting on a bus to the nearby coastal town of Chipiona, famed for its Moscatel Gordo Blanco (Muscat of Alexandria) vineyards. Chipiano had the only internet café in the area, owned by a former US Navy seaman. For those few months we were probably his best clients.

As I said at the time “Winemakers are very good at telling us how many months the wine has spent in oak barrels and how great the vintage was, but they are more reticent when it comes to admitting what sprays are used on the vines and whether the residues end up in the wine.”

The book begins by explaining how organic winegrowing differs from conventional (‘chemical’) winegrowing. The main part of the book profiles several hundred organic wine producers worldwide, listing the wines they produce together with stockists and prices. The final part of the book explains biodynamic winegrowing plus how wines suitable for vegetarians and vegans are made. I began writing the book whilst living in the Sherry region of Spain, and finished it living on a biodynamic vineyard in northern California.

When The Organic Wine Guide was published the press (especially in Britain) was full of stories about mad cow disease (‘BSE’), the potential arrival of GM crops and the industrialisation of our food and drink. Organic wine had seemingly suddenly become relevant. The environmental group Friends of the Earth asked me to write this book because over the previous four years I had been contributing articles on green issues to leading wine magazines like Decanter and Wine.

In the foreword to The Organic Wine Guide, BBC Radio Four and London Evening Standard wine critic Andrew Jefford wrote: “A sceptic by nature, Monty Waldin is the ideal guide: he has worked in vineyards and wineries in both hemispheres; he knows at first-hand, as few other journalists do, the kind of compromises and ruses which go on there…My own belief is that organic cultivation is the hard and difficult goal for which all those involved in agriculture should strive; in the long run, it is best for human health, best for human taste buds, and the only option for a future in which we cease to exploit and deplete our environmental patrimony. Wine producers, it is true, have been laggardly in addressing these issues, and why? Because drinkers, browbeaten by wine’s complexities, do not demand a quality organic alternative in the same way that we are now doing for bread, for vegetables, for fruit and for meat. I like to imagine a future in which all good wine will be organic. Use this book, support the world’s most skilled organic and biodynamic wine growers, and it may happen.”

The book was Winner of the Champagne Lanson Awards, Wine Guide of the Year.

As soon as the Organic Wine Guide was written my partner and I went to live in California for 7 months to work for Bobby and Jimmy Fetzer on the family’s Home Ranch in Redwood Valley, Mendocino. The estate was Demeter-certified Biodynamic. Under vineyard manager David Koball I was tasked with creating more biodiversity (planting a Biodynamic vegetable garden to provide food for the vineyard staff), making Biodynamic compost for the vineyard, running an apple orchard and selling the fruit at the farmers’ market in the local town of Ukiah.

The California experience informed by next book on bio wines, Biodynamic Wine (2003, Mitchell Beazley).