1WineDude Radio Episode 4: Talking Biodynamics with International Viticulture Consultant Alan York

Vinted on January 18, 2011 binned in 1WineDude Radio, interviews

In the latest podcast installment here on 1WineDude.com, I interview Alan York, an international consultant on Biodynamic viticulture and farming, who I met last year when visiting Benziger (one of Alan’s clients).

Alan is probably best known as the consultant who is overseeing the Biodynamics conversion of mega rock star Sting’s vineyard area in Tuscany.

Despite being fully immersed into the world of Biodynamics, Alan has a pretty laid-back, live-and-let-live approach to BioD farming in general.  Except when it comes to talking about all-out attacks on BioD, particularly winemaker Stu Smith’s blog Biodynamics Is A Hoax.

Alan talks to me about his work with Sting, his views on the differences between Organically- and Biodynamically-farmed wines, how to explain Biodynamics to the layperson, and explains why he’s flummoxed that Biodynamics would come under attack in the first place (though he certainly acknowledges its inherent strangeness).

It should be another fun opportunity to discuss an always hot-button, powder-keg topic on the virtual pages of 1WD.

Next week… I interview Stu Smith himself to get the opposing viewpoint.  Stay tuned…


1WineDude Radio: International Consultant Alan York Talks Biodynamics





  • Isotope

    As a preface, I'd really like to see this audio in a printed transcript. Mr. York is hard for me to understand since he seems to ramble and 41:43 takes a while to get to the good parts (last 5 minutes)

    I'm rabid. It's not religious. It's because ignorance is a plague, and the world needs less plague.

    Here's a little bit of what he says:

    "As long as you aren't doing harm to yourself or other people then i don't understand why people get their tit in a ringer, I don't get it"

    I can absolutely guarantee that Mr. York does not bother to test his wines for potentially dangerous biogenic amines, or dangerous copper levels. If I would have had the reins of this Q & A session, I'm sure I would have asked which preparation Bordeaux blend belongs to, from Steiner's recommendations. I certainly would have also asked if he employs any microbial testing to determine that the wine isn't full of biogenic amine producing bacteria. Does Mr. York use SO2 to keep his barrels clean? What is the BD method for that? Storing the barrels dry with powdered brettanomycetes and acetobacter? I suppose I would have also asked why the oak from the vineyard isn't chopped down and coopered to make the terroir show more accurately, after all he says that the Organic vineyards are not using their "intenionallity"

    All wine, when it comes in from the vineyard is full of bacteria and yeast. Dear all wine writers, go spend time at a winery at crush, and bring along a microscope. Wipe a grape on a slide and look at it at 1000X. You will see plenty of "terroir". No doubt the bacteria, yeast, and fungus have a great deal to do with the final flavors of a wine, moreso than what kind of trace elements are different from soil type A to soil type B.

    In conventional winemaking, you add a healthy dose of either sodium or potassium metabisulfite to knock out the bacteria that, among other spoilage concerns, make biogenic amines. These amines are not great for some people and the EU has danced about the actual regulation of some of these compounds.

    Production consultants that have no scientific understanding have a much higher chance of making something dangerous, therefore, I as a consumer, want to know if my wine, that I'm paying good money for, is manufactured by an incompetent hippie. Unfortunately the FDA isn't cracking down on this insane wine-making ritual. I think every BD vineyard should have a giant "BD" on it's label so that those of us who don't want to support idiots don't actually accidentally do so, or risk imbibing a wine that is potentially unsafe.

    Apparently I need to get over it, if I was only one of those de-regulation libertarians.

    Here's a summary of the biodynamic argument:

    Homer Simpson: Well, there's not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is sure doing its job.
    Lisa Simpson: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
    Homer: Thank you, sweetie.
    Lisa: Dad, what if I were to tell you that this rock keeps away tigers.
    Homer: Uh-huh, and how does it work?
    Lisa: It doesn't work. It's just a stupid rock.
    Homer: I see.
    Lisa: But you don't see any tigers around, do you?
    Homer: Lisa, I'd like to buy your rock.


    • 1WineDude

      Isotope – thanks, I do appreciate the passion (and the Simpsons quote, which nearly had me in tears!).

      Regarding the transcript – you're by no means the first person who has asked about that and I need to get on that and get some of these 1WD Radio interviews transcribed; I'm just behind on everything and have yet to find a service that can do it quickly (and accurately) enough for an affordable price (if anyone reading this has a reco./suggestion PLEASE send it along!).

      Regarding your comment: I'm expecting strong reactions to both sides of this argument (I mean, we already got plenty of passionate reactions to the post last week in which I mentioned BioD and that was just to say that these interviews were going to be published!). I encourage you to listen to the interview with Stu next week as he touches on a similar stance (i.e., "what you don't know can actually hurt you and maybe BioD wines aren't actually that good for you / the environment."

      You make a great point about spending time at crush – which I actually plan to do in CA later this year (I may not have a 1000X microscope handy at the time though).

      On the downside, you have made me a bit frightened to actually taste my next wine… but I think I'll get over it… :-)

      • Isotope

        Hi 1WineDude,

        I'm not afraid to taste my next wine, I seem to be reasonably resistant to copper, though I must say that if you don't add sulfur early on, you *will* get more earthy flavors. The bacteria will proliferate and for whatever reason it does make a more "dirty" style. I'm honest with my taste buds though, I want a wine that tastes clean and elegant, I remember having, I think it was the 1999 or 1998 Daniel Rion Villes Vigne that was phenomenal, and clean and elegant. I'll take my rare burgundy that way, rather than similar to drinking a wine that was poured in a gas station toilet and then taken back out again and re-bottled.

        If you do go to CA for crush, I'm not familiar with their grapes microflora too much, I'd still look for a scope to use. See if a community college will let you borrow a phase contrast scope, they are pretty cheap and you'll have to learn how to mount a slide and use immersion oil. It's really easy and enlightening.

        I'll put it this way, the most logical thing that makes wine taste the way it does is microbial fermentation. The least likely is the difference between 100ppb and 12ppb limestone. It just doesn't migrate up the rootstalk. Sure, some trace elements might be different, but we are people, with dull senses of taste and smell. Perhaps a dog might notice the difference but they will roll around in some nasty stuff too.

        Take care, very ready to hear Stu, needless to say, I know he's going to do a fine interview!

        • 1WineDude

          Thanks, Isotope – "I'll take my rare burgundy that way, rather than similar to drinking a wine that was poured in a gas station toilet and then taken back out again and re-bottled. "

          OR wine that has been shipped overseas in enormous metal tankers…

  • Andy

    I love the Simpsons. Preface — I am a Stu Smith fan. Unfortunately, will not have time to listen to either posts (unless Stus is short and sweet) but I can say this… while Steiner was actually modestly prescient in days when NPK was starting to take over the world (N=nitrogen, K=potassium, P = phosphorus—elemental, petrochemically dervied fertilizer–as opposed to organic, hummus, based preparations), most of his specific tennants, beyond what has been documented with "closed system" (i.e. Polyface farms) and organic agriculture, are completely off the wall (and completely fabricated no less) and belong in the realm of Scientology and astrology. While there is nothing inherently "wrong" with BD, Scientology etc– the issues I have occur when (1) BD proponents claim superiority over "conventional" organic/sustainable farming practices and (2) the generalities of otherwise educated people easily and glibly accepting such things that eschew the scientific method and/or objective reasoning (and look at all the troubles this has caused).

    • Isotope

      Agreed with the superiority over conventional organic/sustainable. Agreed with point 2 as well.

  • Andy

    As a side note, I visited "Ceago Vinegarden" this week — Mike Fetzers biodynamic dream property in lake County and tasted through his some of his wines … not bad but also not great and clearly the lesser of the other (non-BD) wineries in lake and mendocino counties I tasted that week ( we were in a group and i was the only one who knew specifically of BD — this was a clear consensus amongst us, not just my potentially biased opinion). The facility was quite nice however

  • Pinotnoirhound

    I would like to also note that the term "Biodynamic" is Tradmarked by the Detemer Association, which is the largest certifier of Biodynamic Agriculture in the world. Use of the "Biodynamic" name is very strictly policed, wineries have to be vigilant about the way they word its use in POS and its mention on websites.

    Also, on the "Biodynamic" Wiki page, there are links to multiple studies of efficacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodynamic_agricultu


  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, Pinotnoirhound – what you're describing is the same tings that I've encountered on trips to the better BioD producers that Ive been able to visit. The holistic approach has the best intentions in mind in terms of creating a sustainable environment in the vineyard. I think in that respect, BioD can be amazing for a property but it's not the only way to revitalize that environment.


  • @HardRow

    Great post, I learned a lot. I am a wine maker from Washington State. Great series of commentary too. Thanks Joe, well done.- Judy

  • dosing unit

    I can actually agreement that Mr. York does not bother to analysis his wines for potentially alarming biogenic amines, or alarming chestnut levels. If I would accept had the reins of this Q & A session, I’m abiding I would accept asked which alertness Bordeaux alloy belongs to, from Steiner’s recommendations. I absolutely would accept aswell asked if he employs any microbial testing to actuate that the wine isn’t abounding of biogenic amine bearing bacteria. Does Mr. York use SO2 to accumulate his barrels clean? What is the BD adjustment for that? Storing the barrels dry with delicate brettanomycetes and acetobacter?

    • 1WineDude

      Unit – dude, you need a translator…

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from Vinotology » January 28th – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
    Tuesday, 22 February, 2011

    […] great job of getting both sides of the story, straight from the horses mouths. The interviews with Alan York (pro) and Stu Smith (against) were both expertly done, and did a great job of shining some light on the […]

The Fine Print

This site is licensed under Creative Commons. Content may be used for non-commercial use only; no modifications allowed; attribution required in the form of a statement "originally published by 1WineDude" with a link back to the original posting.

Play nice! Code of Ethics and Privacy.

Contact: joe (at) 1winedude (dot) com





Sign up, lushes!

Enter your email address to subscribe and get all the good stuff via email.

Join 36,893 other subscribers