Though today she lives in Ventura, author Joye Emmens was born in Santa Barbara and frequently visits this county with visitors to taste wine. She’s especially partial to Buttonwood and Martian Ranch — the former is an organic vineyard while the latter is farmed biodynamically, which is an agricultural protocol based on the stages of the moon.
Emmens first learned about biodynamics during a trip to France five years ago, and that’s what led to her latest novel, Crush: A Tale of Two Vineyards. The plotline concerns a young woman who falls in love with a visiting French winemaker while trying to save her own family’s vineyard from competing interests. Emmens answered a few questions about the book recently.
Why did you decide to tell this story? The inspiration came from a visit to France. We were staying near Tourrettes-sur-Loup, a small village on the French Riviera for a few weeks in 2014. During one of our daily adventures, we stumbled upon Domaine Saint Joseph, a small winery off a winding road below the village.
Julien, the owner and winemaker, introduced us to his wine and spoke passionately about the biodynamic farming practices he adheres to. He explained biodynamic farming as a holistic interconnectivity between earth, plants, animals, the moon, and planets.
I had never heard of biodynamic farming or fruit days, flower days, leaf days, root days. I did know about farming according to the lunar cycle: full moon, rising moon, descending moon.
Upon returning home that afternoon, I immediately researched biodynamics practices and knew my next book would be about biodynamic winemaking.
Did you travel more in France to better understand the culture? I have traveled extensively in France and spent two months there in 2017 while writing. I spent a month in Bandol, which is the setting of the French vineyard in the book.
The clash between old and new cultures is central to this story. How does that play out in the wine world? France has very strict guidelines all wineries must follow to be labeled as a particular AOC. For instance, in Bandol, for red wine to be labeled as a Bandol AOC, the wine must be aged in barrels for at least 18 months and maximum vines-per-acre requirements must be met. California uses a geographical AVA and winemakers can experiment more. Yet in France, despite the strict guidelines, there are over 600 biodynamic certified vineyards. In the U.S., there are about 60. The Old World seems to be experimenting more with farming approaches.
Have you ever made wine yourself? I am not a winemaker, except for a disastrous batch of elderberry wine I made when I was 18. It was undrinkable, yet we probably drank it anyway!
See jemmens.com for more information and to buy the book.