About the Winemaker
What's a nice pediatrician doing with purple fingers?
Quite a few doctors got into the wine business for the tax write-offs or the pursuit of an elegant lifestyle, ah…the veranda overlooking the flowing vines in the Napa sunshine, the well-heeled visitors, the elegant meals.
Not me, I guess. I lived in Italy for 6 months at age 19, and quickly grasped the oceanic difference between the California drinking styles I observed in college and the centuries old, family tradition of moderate behavior in Italy. Add the refreshing respect among generations and deep-rooted reverence for the land that characterized the hillside families I visited in my tiny red Fiat, and I wanted to have a wine making family, too, when I grew up. (I'm not sure that's happened yet, but according to Medicare, I must be getting closer.) Since then, I acquired a family, a medical career, and then a winery.
I think the central privilege of pediatrics is the admission of an outsider into hundreds of families I never would have met otherwise…families of farm workers, families of farm owners, welders, professors, carpenters, athletes, artists, inventors, teachers, musicians, police officers, and happily...other winemakers. The inspiring unification of these families, beyond the parents’ dedication to children, has been the pride and passion to excel in their chosen paths. This single living parental example probably means more to our children than all the moralistic pontification of 20 presidential campaigns. When this passion for excellence aligns with touching of the earth, the coaxing of a fickle fruit from the gravelly soil, the indulgence of quirky weather, the grudging admiration for the perversity of gophers, the blushing magic of veraison, the pure joy of fog and sun at dawn...this life hums. I love it.
I tend to judge doctor winemakers by the color of their hands in October. The well-heeled are pink and clean. The passionate ones are purple. My patients adapted to a certain organic duskiness of my palms in the harvest, albeit with a few raised eyebrows among the urban raised. I never quite needed to tell them that the anthocyanins bonded to my skin were, in fact, the same compounds that make wine so uniquely suited to treat the eyes, the tongue, the nose, and the soul. I've also written and lectured about some of the physiological effects of those same wine compounds and ethanol on a variety of human systems, including our cardiovascular system. (The French Paradox and Beyond, Perdue, Shoemaker, & Marton, Renaissance Press, 1992.)
Beyond the intrigue of the unfolding awareness of the relationship of moderate drinking and a variety of health measures, medical training is really useful in other ways in the cellar. To make wine successfully, one must maintain constant suspicion that Nature is not being kind or generous. The same attentiveness to subtle signs of distress that I applied for decades in the nursery serves well to intercept problems in the barrels. The pleasure in seeing a fine wine safely through to bottling will never parallel the joy of seeing healthy babies go home with loving mothers, but the hours are more humane, and wine smells better. It's also hard to carry babies to the beach, the mountains, and the desert without lugging a lot of extra stuff. Been there, done that, and now we just pack the corkscrew.
People ask me, are you a small winemaker? No, medium sized, actually. Alexa, however, could once qualify.
Adore your children. Praise them. Tell them stories. Show them truth. Listen to what they say. There is nothing more important. With the wine, there's no need for adoration. That’s not why we make it. Just pull the cork, laugh, and touch somebody gently.