Sam Cole-Johnson and others celebrate an inspirational figure in organic, biodynamic and regenerative viticulture.
In 1976, Paul Dolan graduated from the University of California-Fresno State and went to work for Fetzer Vineyards. Under his leadership, Fetzer became one of the first wineries in the US to certify its vineyards as organic. While at Fetzer, a friendship with biodynamic consultant Alan York led to a lifelong interest in biodynamics, eventually leading him to sit on the board of Demeter USA. In recent years, Dolan helped to launch the Regenerative Organic Alliance and the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) programme. He died last Monday, 26 June, after a long battle with cancer. He was 72 years old.
Samantha writes I only ever met Paul Dolan once. As you can see in the picture above, taken in July 2022, I was thrilled. By the time I met him, at the Truett-Hurst property, I must have called him half a dozen times to clarify facts and figures for my article Will ROC roll?. Scheduling an in-person meeting, many months later, my email began, ‘You seem to be a large part of the story for many, if not most, of the things I want to write lately.’
On the day we met, he provided invaluable input for Biodynamic viticulture in the Americas. But, before we could begin with questions, he insisted on showing me the property. ‘This is Maurio’s butterfly garden … that’s the facility that Virginia Lambrix started VML wines out of … We grew some flowers for Huneeus here last year … I suggested this amaranth because I’d really like to find a local chef who can work with it …’. With every step he took, he pulled a new person into the conversation, just as in his everyday life he wove a web of community.
In our conversation, Dolan expressed disappointment with some aspects of the wine industry, telling me, ‘In the 70s, we managed to grow Fetzer because our distributors were our partners and they appreciated the relationship they had with the winery. Now distributors want someone who is already known.’ Just as equally he expressed joy, thrilling in how open, supportive and collaborative he found the biodynamic, organic, and regenerative organic communities to be. When I asked him, as a staunch proponent of biodynamics, why he had helped to start up ROC he replied that the whole point was to make soil health accessible. ‘It’s all farming in service of life. If someone doesn’t like the language around biodynamics, how do we make the practical aspects accessible? That’s what Rodale and Patagonia wanted. I agree with them.’
Dolan was an inspiration. His gentle, driven, community-minded approach led him to accomplish so much good. I find myself wondering if I should be sad. All I can feel is an overwhelming amount of gratitude and motivation. Motivation to know my farmers, to push for more sustainable farming, and to appreciate my community. Cheers to you, Paul.
Jim Fetzer writes Paul, only two years older than me, was a prominent mentor of mine. I appreciated his ability, confidence, knowledge, and vision to see the future. And now he is truly part of the future.
Rodrigo Soto (Quintessa) writes Paul was an incredibly generous human being. Generous with his time, his knowledge, and his ideas.
On a personal level, he gave me an incredible opportunity to work with his team at Fetzer in the late 1990s. But more than that, I got the opportunity observe how he managed a large organisation with calmness and kindness. He was incredibly warm and respectful to his workers and team members. And for me, I will never forget, as a very young, inexperienced winemaker, he invited me to have a conversation about my country and my experience working in the field and the winery. That gesture finished with him giving me a book written by Paul Hawken – The Ecology of Commerce – and a tight hug. It was unforgettable at that moment in time and taught me a tremendous lesson of humbleness on his behalf.
Years after that, we got the opportunity to reconnect in a biodynamic study group and lately to have great conversations on regenerative and biodynamics. Always the same kindness, calmness and positiveness about people, the power of new generations and the future. He was a great example and inspiration.