Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Memoriam: Vintners Mourn Death of Biodynamic Consultant Alan York

Alan York
(photo courtesy of Benziger)
Biodynamic vintners around the world are mourning the passing  of a renowned consultant and beloved friend, Alan York, 62, who died last week of pancreatic and liver cancer.

The Louisiana native was the Biodynamic consultant who helped the first wave of vintners in America adopt Biodynamic practices in the 1990s and aided subsequent waves of Biodynamic farmers and vineyardists around the world. His most famous client was the English rock star Sting who brought York in to establish his winery in Tuscany.

Alan Chadwick at Covelo
Originally an apprentice to horticultural legend Alan Chadwick at his renowned Round Valley Institute for the Study of Man and Nature in Covelo, York worked as a garden manager in the Mendocino County project,  then the country's largest Biodynamic center.

Later, contact with this community inspired both the Freys and the Fetzers to grow organically and then to certify the first Biodynamic vineyards in America in 1996. Both engaged him as their Biodynamic consultant.

After his apprenticeship under Chadwick in the 1970s, York taught horticulture at Mercy College in Michigan and then moved to Missouri where he managed a 1,000 acre farm. When the Missouri farm's owner established an apple farm in Boonesville in Mendocino County, Chadwick returned to California to work there.

He became president of the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association of North America in the late 1990s.

After successfully converting hundreds of acres of vineyards in Mendocino to Demeter certification for the Freys and Jim Fetzer at Ceago, in 1997, the Benzigers hired him to help them adopt biodynamic practices in their estate vineyards in Sonoma. Their first Biodynamic vineyard was certified in 2000.

Other U.S. clients certified throughout the decade of the 2000's include (among others):

• Bonterra, the largest Biodynamic vineyard owner in Mendocino

• Cowhorn, boutique, southern Oregon Rhone wine producers

• Montemaggiore, a premium Syrah producer in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley

• Quivira, a noted Rhone producer in Dry Creek Valley

• Robert Sinskey Vineyard in Napa's Carneros region

York also worked with vintners in Chile and Israel. Here's a 2012 video in which he explains the principles of biodynamics at Altos Las Hormigas in Chile.

A memorial service will be held in March for friends and clients to honor his memory.


  1. Alan York was one of many who originally learned from Alan Chadwick at Covelo and at other locations, including UC Santa Cruz, Green Gulch, Saratoga, and Virginia. May both Alan's rest in peace after a life well-lived.

  2. so sad to lose Yorkie.... when is his service.

  3. Today we remember Alan York, who passed away on this day, 6 years ago (February 3, 2014). He visited to our vineyards Altos Las Hormigas in Luján de Cuyo and in Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. We remember his big smile was a reflection of his love and passion for natural farming. We learnt a lot from his commitment on healing the earth by understanding the soils and the environment in which the vines grow. We miss his contribution and till today we work to make his legacy live and be passed on.
    The value of life in the soil is one of our firm beliefs. The foundation of a good wine is a healthy soil with all species and life in it, from microfauna to mycorrhiza, to create a cycle of fertility, based on self-produced compost, which does not depend on external contributions. This is the cornerstone of our farming methods, with the use of natural preparations and the avoidance of all synthesis products - especially all weed killers - the true enemies of Terroir.
    Altos Las Hormigas Winery