Entries in biodynamic (3)


Biodynamic and Organic Farmers: I'll Have What They're Having

There’s a famous scene in When Harry Met Sally when Meg Ryan, in a crowded deli, proves that women do fake orgasms, often and convincingly, with a 90 second gasket-blowing, table-thumping, orgasm imitation, oh-oh-oh-OHhhhhhhh-YES,YES, YES!  

The punch line comes when a middle-aged woman glances at her and then the waiter and says “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Well I’ll have what they’re having, THEY being organic and biodynamic farmers.  I attended a biodynamic study group last year for no reason  other than I was interested. At the time I wondered, are these people beautiful just because they are young or are they beautiful because they are connected to the earth, eating good food and doing what they love? Whatever the reasons for their beauty, their peace, their earnest but practical care for the land,  I’ll have what they’re having. 

I recently attended a workshop on organic farming, again because I was interested. Kudos to Solano County’s Agriculture Commissioner and the county’s U.C. Davis Cooperative Extension for doing this two hour panel discussion to help farmers and landowners learn about paperwork, subsidies, soil samples, inspectors and so much more to do with getting started farming organically.  

Matt McCue and Lily Schneider, Suisun Valley's Shooting Star FarmThe panelists were not the kind of folks who save the earth by sitting in trees and stirring up publicity. They are young men and women, working within the system, through conservation programs and community supported agriculture groups, to improve our health and our world.

Once again, I don’t know why,  but they were beautiful, and not a mascara wand among them.

I’ll have what they’re having.



Joey Brinkley of Grgich Hills Estates

High on a hill in American Canyon I heard the faint hum of traffic and industry below. It’s purpose, it seemed, was to remind me how lucky I was to be at this peaceful vineyard on a beautiful blue, crisp morning in December.

My guide is Joey Brinkley, Vineyard Assistant for Grgich Hills Estates. Spending time with Joey,  I can’t help wondering if the biodynamic approach to farming works for people too. On this little farm among the olive trees, vetch, rye, peas, barley, beans, yarrow, catnip, lavender, bees, owls, hawks, eagles, chickens and jackrabbits, I get the feeling that the sky to soil diversity that is good for the vines is also good for the soul.

It seems to be working for Joey. At the ripe old age of thirty he appears to have internalized the balance and harmony that is part and parcel of biodynamic farming. He has an easy laugh, listens intently and is healthy-handsome in a way that falls somewhere between Farm Journal and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Joey, a self-described “seeker,” became interested in biodynamics after earning a degree in horticulture at Virginia Tech (and economics from Virginia Commonwealth University). Organic farming was good, but he felt something was missing – he was looking for a holistic approach that went beyond inputs and production.

His father, a Vietnam vet who spent his working life at the Newport News Shipyard encouraged him to follow work he loved. His mother was supportive but a bit more pragmatic. Joey told her not to worry, “Mom. I have degree in economics. I can add.”

He was working at the Josephine Porter Institute, the "mother ship" of biodynamic farming, when he met Ivo Grgich. Ivo is the nephew of Miljenko "Mike" Grgich, the winemaker who helped change the world for California wines when his Chardonnay was named "finest in the world" in the now-famous "Paris Tasting of 1976."   When Joey got the call to come to work for this famous family he didn't immediately say yes.  He and his wife, Natalie were about to embark upon a cross-country trip. "We were going to end up wherever we ended up and try to find jobs. That was the plan. The plan was not to HAVE a job, it was to find a job when the money ran out.” He didn't accept till he talked to Natalie. "She said, 'Yes, yes, yes! Take it" and they took off on a month-long trek from New Orleans to their new jobs in Napa Valley.

Obviously Natalie has a strong streak of “seeker” too. She was his waitress in Blacksburg, Virginia when he was traveling from a farm in Kentucky where he was helping a friend.  Four months later he went back to Blacksburg, and in a simple statement that says it all,  “I found her.” 

They live on Grgich property in Calistoga and Natalie works in the Grgich tasting room. This venerable winery is still very much a family affair. Ivo, is the winemaker and in charge of production. Mike Grgich’s daughter, Violet is in charge of all the day-to-day operations, marketing and sales. "It's not like this is just something fun to do, although they totally enjoy it. I think for some people in Napa it's a hobby. They made billions in some other industry and they come to do this because their friends did or because it was fun. Our situation is different. I think that changes things." 

In addition to her business responsibilities, Violet is the inspiration for the Violetta desert wine, made with the botrytis-ized late harvest fruit that grows in this vineyard.  “This year was great because of the rains. We got lucky. You can't really manipulate it. The rains and humidity helped it spread and it really concentrates those flavors." 

The only thing missing in Joey's life seems to be a cow. Or cows.  As he looked wistfully at an open field next to the vineyard, he muttered, "Good to get some cows on that." Later, when I spotted a jack rabbit, he told me they call them mini-cows, "The closest thing we have to cows right now. They eat the green stuff and poop." When I quiz him about what I consider some of the more bizzare aspects of biodynamics, cow-related and others (cow horns filled with dung and buried, intestines with camomile, vortexes and equinoxes) Joey replies simply, “For one thing, because it works.”  

Yes it does work. Harmonious conditions and minimal manipulation allow Grgich wine to be the ultimate expression of terroir, that sense of place that encompasses soil, climate and topography.  The wines taste clean, bright, and elegant, and with a complexity and balance that honors the farm in the vineyard where Joey works.  

Tomorrow - what it took me to "get" biodynamics. What would my Dad the Physicist say? 

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Wine, I’ve got you under my skin 

My buddy Heath is so wild for wine that he has a tattoo of a New Zealand vineyard on his arm. Last week I felt like wine had gotten under my skin as much as his. Wine crowded out all the “shoulds” in my life: work, gym, Christmas, and my disaster of a closet. The result was a very good week indeed. I’ll write about all the people with whom I spent time, including Heath, in coming weeks. For now a short recap of one of my best weeks ever.


Chatted with Carl the money genius who pours wine at Taste at Oxbow. Carl is a financial consultant who occasionally works at this very comfortable tasting room, in Napa. Why I'm not sure, perhaps a chance to work with people and not numbers.  Sounds geeky, but discussing GDP, currency rates and economic indicators over a glass of say, Mahoney Pinot from the Las Brisas vineyard in Carneros, is a nice switch from the usual swirl and sniff.

More Monday

I had time to talk to Carl because I had missed my rendezvous with aforementioned Heath who is now unemployed after working at a custom crush facility. When we finally met up I picked his brain for two hours and was wowed by how this 25-year-old has learned so much about wine in the three short years he’s been drinking it legally. 


Joey Brinkley, vineyard assistant for Grgich Hills Estates showed me around a biodynamic vineyard on a hill looking over American Canyon. The vines may be “sleeping” but this ecologically diverse little farm was buzzing. Hens were a-laying, birds a-chirping, bees a-buzzing and microbes a…. doing whatever microbes do. Joey sent me home with some biodynamic eggs. The meal I made from the eggs and the high I got from the vineyard stayed with me all day.

More Tuesday

The last night of wine class had us tasting some very famous wines, – 1999 Echezeaux Grand Cru, 1979 Mouton Rothschild, and 1970 Graham Vintage Port. But for me, it is not the finish of the wine that lingers, it is the people. Oscar, a Spaniard who in an earlier class had winced about Americans’ use of paper plates, sang us a very sweet song from his country that is traditionally sung when one is drinking special wine.


Checked out the Wooden Valley tasting room in Suisun Valley and met the chatty Ron Lanza who introduced me to Roger King of King Andrews Vineyards. Ron grew up in a family wine business and his story echos the stories of family vintners in Napa, before Napa became Napa. With a background in ski resorts, Roger's story is less pastoral. When I asked him what Kirkwood Ski Resort was like in the 70s he got a far away look in his eyes and memories of sex, drugs and rock and roll danced across his face. Then he muttered the mantra of all of us who have lived large and are still around to tell the tale, “I’m lucky I’m not in jail.”

There's a story there. Stay tuned. I intend to tell it.