Biodynamic Viticulture and Water Stewardship

Interview with Mike Benziger, NRDC Growing Green Awards "Water Steward Award" recipient

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00:10:00 - Uploaded by Essinova on May 19, 2010

Mike Benziger, of the Benziger Family Winery, is the first recipient of the Water Steward Award, a new addition to the Growing Green Awards granted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) this year. In this interview, Mr. Benziger explains to Essinova host, BeiBei Song, the Biodynamics® principles the Benziger Family Winery adheres to today, after years of conventional farming destroyed their land and erased any signs of life. As part of the biodynamic practice, the winery recycles 2 million gallons of water every year, through engineered wetlands and a recycling pond. This system, according to Mr. Benziger, can be scaled up or down. A similar system is being used at the City of Eureka. "The nice thing about these systems is that there are hardly any moving parts. They are all natural and they use very little electricity".

[Notes from your host]: Although this interview appears in the Air & Water column—after all, Mike’s award was for water stewardship, I find myself intrigued by the holistic philosophy of Biodynamics. The Benziger family’s view of their land “much like a human body” strongly resonates with my (still rudimentary) understanding of all living systems - the intricate, dynamic and interdependent relationships within and between the body, the planet and perhaps the entire universe. A major part of my motivation in creating Essinova was to cover both people’s health and the health of the planet which we inhabit—the two are inextricable, on so many levels. 

I particularly appreciate the Benzigers’ new logo combining symbols for Earth, Water, Air, and Fire, which, according to Mike, are brought together in harmony to produce the fifth essence, the Spirit (being Chinese, I instinctively draw parallels to 五行 "Wu Xing", the ancient Five Movements or Five Elements). Still, what I found the most interesting in my conversation with Mike was his view of how biodynamics shapes the quality of his wine as a product and the dynamics of his business. 

“I cannot honestly tell you practicing biodynamics is going to make a better wine, a better oliver oil or a better vegetable, but it will make one that’s different…The whole goal of a biodynamic wine is not to be technically perfect, but to be true and authentic to one place, and to one vintage. It might mean it has a little crooked nose, or a little bit of a chipped tooth, but I think it’s those kinds of idiosyncrasies that kind of draw you in, and makes the wine interesting because it’s honest, it’s real! That’s what we deliver to the customers: a time capsule of exactly what happened that year.” 

My business side asked the question; my artist side was lit up by Mike's response. Though my novice palate can barely distinguish the “overtones of smokiness” from “hints of raspberry” in a wine, I know I am as likely to fall for the “honest” and “idiosyncratic” in a wine as I am with any form or genre of art. In fact, hasn't my aesthetics for life grown that way, after many trials and tribulations!

And a time capsule with which to relive memories or to preserve today for the future? Pour me a glass, please!

- BeiBei

Tags: Mike Benziger, Benziger Family Winery, Biodynamics, water conservation, NRDC, Natural Resources Defense Council, Growing Green Awards, Water Steward Award

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  • Marc Capobianco says:

    May 26, 2010

    I have seen this winery grow from a ramshackle operation to one of the gargantuan producers in California, then, at the apex of their financial success, sell off their mega-production units and return to their true roots, with an aesthetic appreciation not only for their wine, but the land on which they grow it. I have long known Mike not just for the environmental stewardship of his own operations but as a tireless advocate of environmental responsibility throughout the state. The wine industry has been at the forefront of sustainability in California, and, for certain, the Benziger winery has been an integral part of its vanguard. Biodynamics can strike many people outside the industry as a bit esoteric, if not elusive, so it is refreshing, as always, to hear BeiBei demystify this holistic practice in her incisive yet inimitable fashion. A most refreshing segment, if it hadn’t made me so thirsty!

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