Alan York, Biodynamic Pioneer, Has Passed Away

alan_york_prepsAlan York, a leading consultant for biodynamic viniculture, has passed away at 62. He worked extensively with Mike Benziger at Benzinger Family Winery, and other wineries around the world. Fellow grape grower Phil Coturri had this to say:

“Alan was a horticulturist at heart. Loved plants, gardens and the teachings of Steiner. His passion and understanding of biodynamics helped spread the word internationally. I will always cherish the time I spent with him walking vineyards, talking about balance. Talking about healing the earth by understanding our soils and the environment in which our plants grow. Celebrating balance in life, wines and earth.”

Benziger Winery sent us the following about Alan’s life:

Alan Lynn York was born January 18, 1952 in Whitehouse, Texas and grew up in Morgan City, Louisiana. He told vivid stories of pirogue trips into the swamps and marshes nearby. He loved visits to Granny York, Aunt Willie and Uncle Lloyd on their farm in the pine forests of East Texas. Alan hated school and ran away to California at age 16. He returned home, finished high school, then moved permanently to Santa Barbara, California where he met his first love: horticulture.

Alan never willingly read anything until he began to garden. Then he read voraciously, first on organic gardening, then everything from Liberty Hyde Bailey to Rudolf Steiner, from soil management to orcharding, viticulture and landscape design. His first quest was “How can I grow the best plants without poisons and other chemical inputs?” After some years of gardening, landscaping, and fun in Santa Barbara, he met Alan Chadwick, a charismatic English gardener, actor, and teacher, well known for his amazing gardens at UC-Santa Cruz.

Chadwick relocated to Covelo, California where very dedicated apprentices joined him to create a garden project to demonstrate Chadwick’s French Intensive methods and his approach to biodynamics. Alan York served his apprenticeship, then joined the staff and finally was Head Gardener. After three years at Covelo, he departed and Chadwick said of him, “That young man has an enormous store of practical knowledge.” He threw himself into learning every practical thing he could, endlessly practicing each technique of propagating, fertilizing, irrigating, and cultivating every kind of plant in the garden. And he began to devote himself unstintingly to the spirit of the earth, to opening his heart to the heart of the earth. To observe his work was to see a perfect marriage of technique raised to art.

Two sides of Alan existed the remainder of his life. The easily visible part was the marriage of his ever-growing practical skills and landscape design capacities with his keen study of academic horticulture. He amassed quite a library. The less visible part was his devotion to the spirit, which he pursued through meditation each morning upon arising, and his form of karma yoga: serving the earth and its inhabitants through work.

Alan went to Detroit where he co-directed the horticultural education and gardens of the Waldorf Institute of Mercy College-Detroit. Then to Missouri where he directed the American Farm Institute, and finally back to his true home—California. Alan spent his remaining 21 years establishing an intensive apple orchard in Boonville, a large vineyard near Ukiah, very extensive work at Benziger Family Winery—now the leading biodynamic vineyard in California, and an ever-expanding international vineyard consultancy that took him to Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Italy, Israel, and France. He served as president of the Biodynamic Association for seven years and also edited the “Biodynamics” quarterly journal.

He will be remembered by his many friends, co-workers, and clients for his astounding sense of humor, infectiously deep laughter, keen wit and intellect, and devotion to his art and craft. In later years he could describe the difficult concepts of biodynamics with a warmth and clarity that few have achieved. Had he lived a few more years he would have achieved great international renown. Alan York is survived by his devoted soul-mate and wife, Rose Ann, his son, August, his mother Joyce Williams and his sister, Jan Flowers. Alan departed this life on February 3 , 2013.