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Cambium Napa Valley Biodynamics Masterclass series hits the US

The first US Cambium Biodynamics Masterclass series launched in Napa Valley last week (27-29 July) and has been heralded a resounding success.

The three-day event, put together by the wine organisations Italy’s Cambium Formazione and the US Biodynamic Demeter Alliance along with the wineries Oregon’s Montinore Estate, and Quintessa Estate, showed how biodynamics and farming methods have evolved within the sector.

Biodynamics, which draws from the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner who developed natural, holistic farming methods as a solution to post-World War I industrial chemical applications, were sttudied at the immersive symposium, hosted at Quintessa Estate in Rutherford. During the event, attendees focused upon topics like building soil health, broadening biodiversity, and identifying change points within systems to ensure vineyard resilience.

Rudy Marchesi, partner at Oregon’s Montinore Estate, and an early US adopter of biodynamics said: “We haven’t had anything like this in the US, and I thought it should be launched in Napa, which arguably is the heart of the American wine industry,” but suggested “I think that was borne out by the attendance, by the quality of the attendees, the high quality of the whole event, and what everybody’s taken away from it.”

Importantly, according to Marchesi, the Cambium Napa Valley has also showcased biodynamics as a feasible business model, and viable farming alternative, amidst escalating climate change.

Marchesi elaborated: “One of the things I hear about biodynamics is it’s so expensive, when I was beating out our neighbours in our cost per acre farm every year. It just is very competitive. The vines, once you get rolling, are healthier, they don’t need that much attention. We’re not spraying anything expensive – a bag of sulfur is cheap, compared to whatever stuff that they sell these days. And there’s this personal reward of transforming this kind of unhealthy farm into a really vibrant, healthy place, not only for us, but for all the people that work here that people that live around us.”

Other attendees also included three Italian wine makers from three different regions: Elisabetta Foradori of Foradori in Mezzolombardo, Federico Ceretto of Ceretto winery and estate in Alba, on Piedmont’s Langhe and Roero hills, and fifth-generation Chiara Pepe of Emidio Pepe wine estate in Abruzzo. All of which belong to multi-generational family estates and with each of them offering an “honest, intimate experiences as biodynamic farmers grappling with varying climates, soils, and varieties”.

Additional participants included biologist, ecologist, and biodiversity expert Olga Barbosa, along with noted international wine communicator Elaine Chukan Brown, and Biodynamic Demeter Alliance board member Daphne Amory. Additionally, journalist Samantha Cole-Johnson guided the daily tastings, and also facilitated a discussion about shifting consumer perceptions.


“I feel enthusiastic about what’s happened through these very intense days,” summed up Italian agronomist and winemaker Adriano Zago, who founded Cambium, which means “exchange” in Latin, as well as a plant’s vascular tissue. “Why? Because I needed so deeply to merge competencies and experiences between Europe and the United States. And Napa is definitely the best place to start.“

Ultimately, the event, which was deemed a great success, saw the Cambium Napa Valley Biodynamics Masterclass series offer participants a framework of thinking, centred around careful listening and observation, to achieve short-term crop viability, long-term soil health, and a thriving community for future generations.

The event host Rodrigo Soto, who is the estate director for Quintessa Estate, admitted “Just creating a comfortable environment for us to discuss these topics, I think has been a gain for everybody.”

Soto explained: “The collective efforts that we have seen of local producers – that commitment of time that they put into this event is incredible. And bringing outsiders – meaning people from other prestigious wine regions and great producers – it’s always inspiring. I think what we’re looking for – what I’m personally looking for – is to create a great moment of conversation and inspiration” and revealed that “the group intends to reprise the US Cambium events biannually”.

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