The first time I heard the name Alex Podolinsky I was in Bordeaux. It was in 2008m with Michel Favard of Chateau Meylet.
"You don't know Alex?" he asked, incredulously.
I admitted I did not. As far as famed Biodynamic consultants, of course I knew Joly and Armenier, but Podolinksy? Alex, who worked out of Australia, had been his initial consultant and Favard was in awe. How could I not know one of the most influential people working in Biodynamics in the world?
Alex was born in the Ukraine and raised in in Germany. He was there during the war. Post-war, the poet, musician, architect, philosopher ended up in Freiburg (Hello, Martin Heidegger).
Already a student of Steiner, he emmigrated to Australia either in 1947 or 1949 as a Biodynamic teacher. With uncanny foresight, he bought the name Demeter. He owns Biodynamics in his continent. His version is a somewhat different interpretation and this can prove polarizing.
One main point of departure is Alex's view of the iconic preparation 500-- that's the famed dung buried in the cow horn trick.
Over the months dung ferments and transforms into a superior sweet smelling and potent fertilizer to be used in farming. But Alex made a tweak. Wanting to make sure the preparations were useful for large scale Australian farming, he sells it ready made. He fine tuned this soil enhancer to the strong Australian sun. Its following as a magic potion is a devoted one, even among those who like Bindi, is not hooked on the Demeter certification or its dogma, but is hooked on the prep.
Throughout my visits through Australia, I met many who poked fun of Alex , even held him in some derision, meglomaniacal and all of that, as well as looking askance at his hightailing off with the Demeter name, but many view him with the same starry eyes that Favard had. They see him as an agrarian prophet of the truth, a guru. However all I met in Australia seem to agree on the prep.
The intensity of those devoted to him was driven home on the way to Barry Morey's place in Beechworth (read about this excellent producer from Victoria in this month's The Feiring Line) when Max Allen stopped us off off at Pennyweight Winery, a picture perfect example of the biodiversity of Alex's teaching. (The high intervention here might raise an eyebrow or two elsewhere, but the passion is electric.)
Morey is a little more hands off, but still he is fiercely respectful of the man, and so were dinner guests that evening, retired biodynamic wheat farmers.
The couple started down their path to soil spirituality when they saw a documentary on Alex on the news series A Big Country. They quickly got in touch.
Then they waited.
Alex wouldn't work with just anyone, you had to be worthy.
One day the phone rang. The consultant was nearby and could visit and see for himself if they would be candidates. They were thrilled. They met. It began.
This February when I was in the state of Victoria, driving about with Max Allen, I asked if we could go to the throne of Australia's Demeter, and see Alex in his Powelltown compound. "Are you sure?" Max asked.
There was no way I could be near someone this controversial and this influential and not meet him if I had the chance.
We headed from Beechworth to Yarra in the morning and as we pulled up the drive, the growth was bursting with spring -like fertility instead of the approaching harvest time slumber. It was a dramatic, lush contrast to the smell of bush fires burning.
We entered his cabin, something like a rustic Flatiron building in its angularity.
The house is bordered by windows on all sides, and even in the overcast day was flooded with light. Inside there were piles of books and papers, yet the feel was spartan and cerebral. Frail, in that abstemious way, Alex is also one of the few consultants I've met, who enjoy drinking and liked to talk of wine. Soon, just like Nicolas Joly, he was talking, channeling whatever.
He tested me to see if I was worth giving answers to.
He waved his wrist at me, flop, flop. "What does life say?" he asked, and I wanted to say a floppy wrist, I knew I was failing the test, and it was an awful feeling.
"It is the unending of life. It is endlessness."
I could have told him that, but I flunked the wrist test.