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An Interview With James Milton

Posted Jan 04 2010 11:29am

Some moons ago I was looking forward to meeting James and Annie Millton at their winery in Gisborne but was thwarted by storms and then a huge landslide that blocked all access. On returning to the UK I exchanged emails with James about organics and biodynamics. With apologies in advance for any misrepresentation, here is my edited version.

In what way is organic wine important to your customers?

Many customers are becoming aware of the “sameness of taste”, the globalised nature of produce, the lack of seasonality. Some of our customers drink our wine because they enjoy it and also because they do not react (badly) to it. Remember, it is not only the lack of pesticides in the vineyard that makes a difference but, for me anyway, the over-use of nitrogen yeast supplements, enzymes and stabilisers that have a profound effect on the taste of wine.

How is organic wine perceived by your customers in price and quality terms? Do you think organic wine has been a sales success?

Our prices are very competitive compared to conventional wines therefore customers who know what we do find them very agreeable. Sales of organic wines might only be <4% in the world and this says a lot about who controls the shelves. Every environmental disaster creates another round of consumer questioning. Sales have been very successful for us and we know that there is a brand loyalty with our wine.

Why do you believe that biodynamic methods are important?

I’ve been doing it for 25 years. Nothing else motivated me to do this, it was my choice. I know it works and I have gone now beyond believing. It is innate and habitual. For all the right reasons BD production is important. It cares and repairs. BD respects that people are involved with the operation. We work with diversity and cooperation. If you take the logic of BD you can’t deny its existence – you become convinced. If you want to enter into the spirit of BD it is very big and very enlightening. Nature has a fond forgiveness if you respect her and give back more than you take.

What image does biodynamic wine have?

It appears that now it has a very high image, especially when you see who is now changing in this direction. Yet when we think of sheep (one following another) I thought that New Zealand was well endowed in this field yet I am still a too rare voice in this South Pacific island!

Should biodynamic wine be the leader of the organic wine category?

It is the high ground, it is the logical progression and those who say “no” have a problem with what they don’t know or are suspicious of. Biodynamic wine production answers the questions left remaining from organic production. This has so much to do with soil health and the ongoing flow on benefits going right through the chain.

How important is Certification, both to you and to your customers?

The big markets want third party endorsement and assurance. The certification requirements are huge but it makes you stop, reflect and look ahead and plan. Being certified should not really be the point but Demeter certification assures buyers that our produce is biodynamically grown. Before a wine can be great it must first be true.

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