June 2, 2013

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Pinot Noir Doctors

“Inside each of us there’s another man or woman dying to get out. That other person is your alter ego, who begs you to cast aside your tedious, day-to-day routine and thrust yourself into the life you’ve always dreamed of living.”

Fred W. Frailey, Editor, Kiplinger’s

Although he was the most famous “Wine Doctor” and often called America’s greatest winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff was not a licensed medical practitioner. There is, however, an extensive list of medical doctors who are winery owners, winegrowers or winemakers. In addition, there are many doctors who have combined their medical background and enjoyment of wine to become advocates of wine as part of a healthy lifestyle. Many Pinot Noir winemakers started out in a career path to become medical doctors. Examples abound, such as Dan Goldfield (Dutton-Goldfield), Natalie West (Foppiano Vineyards), Eric Hamacher (Hamacher Wines), Louisa Ponzi (Ponzi Vineyards), Melissa Burr (Stoller Family Estate), Rod Berglund (Joseph Swan Vineyards), and Cécile Lemerie-Dèrbes (Derbès Wines)

According to Wine into Word (James Gabler), the first book about wine was published by Arnaldus of Villanova, who was a physician, surgeon, botanist, alchemist, philosopher, writer, astrologer, lay theologian and counselor to kins and popes. About 1310, Arnald wrote a book on wine, but because the printing press had not yet been invented, his book was initially handwritten. In 1478, his book was translated into German and printed, making it the first book on wine to use this new invention. The first complete book in English on wine was by William Turner (1568), and the first (Sir Edward Berry), the second (Robert Shannon), and third (Alexander Henderson) books in English that discuss modern wines were written by physicians.

The tradition of doctors entering the wine business first began with the Australians. A procession of British ships transported convicts from Northern Europe to Australian penal colonies from the late 1700s to mid 1800s. One of those convicts was my great grandfather from Ireland, but that’s another story. The turning point in the medical treatment of convicts during transportation came in 1814, with the voyage of the Surrey. The Surrey had on board 200 male convicts, marine guards and crew. The convict’s cells below deck were poorly ventilated and not properly cleaned or fumigated. By the time the Surrey reached the East coast of Australia, the death toll from typhus was 51. Governor Macquarie ordered an inquiry into the high death toll during the voyage of the Surrey.

Macquarie appointed Dr. William Redfern, Sydney’s leading doctor, also an ex-convict, to investigate. Redfern later established a vineyard in southwestern Sydney in 1818, becoming Australia’s first wine doctor. His investigations and recommendations were to have a significant influence on Australia’s wine industry. He found that the captain had withheld rations from the convicts, including their wine rations. As a result, the convicts became weak and susceptible to disease. Redfern’s recommendations included a quarter pint of wine, with added lime juice, be given to each convict every day to prevent malnutrition and scurvy. He also recommended that each transport ship have a qualified doctor on board. As a result, Australia found itself host to many naval surgeons doing convict transport.

After spending six months in a leaky oak cask in the bilge of a transport ship, the wine on board was frequently oxidized and contaminated with sea water. As a result, many doctors that had retired to Australia established vineyards to avoid problems associated with transporting wine to Australia as well as to provide wine as a medicine for their patients.

Australia is now unique among wine producing countries in that 60% of the fruit from any vintage is processed by wine companies established by Australia’s over 160 wine doctors. Australia’s three largest wine companies, Lindemans, Penfolds and Hardys, for example, were all founded by doctors as were other famous Australian labels such as Angoves, Stanley and Houghton. One modern Sydney physician and wine historian, Dr. Phillip Norrie, founded The Wine Doctor Label, and produces wines with enhanced resveratrol content. The Australians should consider replacing the medical profession’s traditional symbol of a snake caduceus with a glass of wine and a convict’s leg iron.

I have often contemplated the reasons for the strong connection between medical doctors and wine, and I find there are considerable parallels for such an association. A physician is typically intelligent, inquisitive, dedicated, prestige-driven, and goal oriented, all of which are qualities that lend themselves to success in winegrowing, winemaking and the wine business. The complexity of wine, like the complexity of the human body is fascinating to medical practitioners. Physicians learn the life sciences and biochemistry in training that are the backbone of winegrowing and winemaking and make the transition to vinifying wine a natural step, and the many principles employed in the treatment of human disease can be applied to treating grapevine disease.

Medicine is constantly changing requiring doctors to keep up with new developments, much like the fields of viticulture and winemaking. Medical doctors often have the spendable income that allows them to indulge their interests as well. Since doctors spend so much time indoors in their office and hospital, the chance to work outdoors offers a peaceful way to balance out their day to day activities. In addition, grapevines, unlike patients, don’t complain.

Both medicine and winemaking are fields that uniquely combine art and science. Some have said that winemaking, and even practicing medicine is more a craft than an art, but I believe there is some artistic component to the winemaking process and most definitely some truth to the proverbial “art of practicing medicine.” The best doctors and winemakers know when to wait and when to do nothing. They both realize that a long night spent at a crucial time can potentially avoid an undesirable result.

This quote from Keith Marton, M.D. in the Stanford alumni magazine, Bench & Bedside, about why people in medicine are drawn to wine is well put. ”It’s the right confluence of art and science that doctors appreciate. If you look around and see how doctors lead their lives, you will find what I would call an aesthetically prone group of people who also are scientists at heart. Not only are doctors often interested in wine, they’re also interested in music and art. Many of the doctors I know have a strong aesthetic sense that wine really satisfies.”

Most doctors find that they learned about wine without formal training, using the advice of winegrowers and winemakers, reading books, and taking courses from colleges and college extension programs.

I asked a number of “Pinot Noir Doctors” to share their story of how they became interested in wine, what drove them to enter the wine business, and why they thought physicians were drawn to wine. My research uncovered a surprisingly large number of “Pinot Noir Doctors” in California and Oregon, many of whom contributed their stories in the pages to follow. The “Pinot Noir Doctors” were overwhelmingly male. Although it has been reported that second career vintners will fail 60% of the time and won’t see profit for at least seven and more likely ten years, none of the wineries profiled here have failed because of financial reasons. Curiously, a majority of the doctors prefer to stay out of the limelight and are quite humble about their accomplishments. Thirty-seven “Pinot Noir Doctors” are profiled here, but if you know of others worth mention, please let me know their details.

I did not include medical doctors who were winery owners, vineyard owners or winemakers whose major focus is varietals other than Pinot Noir, but some of their names bear mention:

In California:

Ernest A. Bates, M.D., Black Coyote
Clay Cockerell, M.D., Coquerel
George Lee, M.D., Old Chatam Ranch
Jan Krupp, M.D., Krupp Vineyard, Krupp Brothers Vineyard, Stagecoach Vineyard
Larry Staton, M.D., Cerro Prieto Vineyard & Cellars
Elwood Greist, Shadow Hills Vineyard
Lee Titus, M.D., Lee F. Titus and Sons
Alfred de Lorimier, M.D., de Lorimier Winery
Brunno Ristow, M.D. Ristow Estate
Less Chafen, M.D. and Jennifer Chafen, Dutch Henry Winery
Kosta M. Arger, M.D., Arger-Martucci Vineyards
Marc Cohen, M.D., Howell at the Moon Winery
Larry Turley, M.D., Frog’s Leap and Turley Wine Cellars

In Oregon: H. Earl Jones, M.D., Abacela Vineyards & Winery

Elsewhere in the United States:

Bryan Staffin, M.D., Fox Hollow Vineyards, Lake Michigan Shore, Buchanan, Michigan
Joseph Gunselman, M.D., Robert Karl Cellars, Columbia Valley, Washington
Charles Thomas, M.D., Chateau Thomas Winery, Madison, Indiana
Jim Vascik, M.D., Valhalla Vineyards, Roanoke, Virginia


Laura Catena, M.D., is a fourth generation Argentine vintner who graduated from Harvard University in 1988 and received her Medical Doctor degree from Stanford University. She is currently general director of Bodega Catena Zapata and her own Luca Winery in Mendoza, Argentina, as well as a practicing Emergency Medicine physician at University of California San Francisco Medical Center in California. She is the “face” of Argentine wine for her active role in promoting the Mendoza wine region.

Max Heger, M.D., a country doctor in Ihringen, Germany, with patients throughout the Kaiserstuhl area, was also a former bee keeper and pigeon breeder who entered the wine business in 1935 by accumulating portions of Voederer Winklerberg, today the 18 acres of Ihringer Winklerberg, the foundation of the Dr. Heger Estate. In 1949, his son Wolfgang began to build a reputation for the estate. For their accomplishments both Dr. Heger and Wolfgang Heger received the distinguished service cross from the German government.

Julio Palmaz, M.D. invented the Palmaz Coronary Stent, the heart stent that was eventually licensed to Johnson & Johnson. While completing his residency at University of California at Davis, his passion for wine began. Along with his spouse, Amalia, and family, he moved from his native Argentina to the San Francisco Bay area and became enchanted with the Napa Valley. He established Palmaz Vineyards in the Napa Valley in 1997, on the site of Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery that had been founded in 1881 by Henry Hagen, one of Napa Valley’s pioneer winemakers. With his interest in mechanics and engineering, he played an integral role in designing Palmaz Vineyards’ gravity flow winery.

Philip Norrie, M.D. is a winemaker and general practice doctor in Australia who has written eight books on wine and health. He continues the long Australian tradition of winemaking doctors. His winery, Pendarves Estate, is located in the lower Hunter Valley. With 30 acres of vines, the estate produces a range of varietal wines.

Justin Peter Ardill, M.D., an interventional cardiologist, is the joint founder with wife Julie, and winemaker for Reilly's Wines in Clare Valley, South Australia. Reilly Wines produces 7,000 cases of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache blend and Riesling from estate vineyards dating back to 1919. The wines have received numerous awards both domestically and internationally.

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