Musings from Meadowood on Winemaking and Healthcare

image Last week, I spent two days at the beautiful Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, California.  The Meadowood is located in the heart of Napa Valley wine country. In addition to being a destination resort, it also serves as private club for the area’s winemaking community.  I was there to deliver a luncheon keynote for the Leadership Institute on how information technology and the Net are changing clinical practice.  My audience consisted of hospital CEOs and physician executives from across the US.

image Since the meeting was being held in Napa, one of the extracurricular activities was a wine education seminar conducted by the resort’s director of wine education, Mr. Gilles de Chambure.  Mr. Chambure is literally a walking encyclopedia of all things related to wine history and winemaking.  We learned that man has been making wine for more than 7000 years.  Its history and production are closely tied to periods of economic prosperity.  Did you know that the United States is the fourth largest wine producer in the world (behind Italy, France, and Spain)?  80 percent of US wine comes from California, but only 4 percent from the Napa Valley.

image Land in Napa is selling these days for upwards of $300,000 an acre and you’ll need a minimum of 20 acres (40 if on a hillside) to start a winery there.  It will take at least 4 years and lots of pruning before your vines produce enough quality grapes to make wine.  It will take another 4 years for your wine to age and reach the market.  So 8 years after you have spent millions of dollars to start your winery, only then might you begin to see some return on your investment.  Is it any wonder so few wineries actually make a profit!

Did you also know that if served in a black glass to obscure its color, many people cannot discern the difference between a red and white wine by taste alone?  So claims Mr. Chambure.  Wine is a very personal experience.

image Healthcare is also a very personal experience.  Like fine wine, most consumers judge healthcare quality on highly subjective, and often wrong, criteria.  Likewise, both fine wine and quality healthcare are sensitive to economic downturns.  One CEO who was attending the meeting told me his business is down 8 percent.  He attributed this to the bad economy and a lighter than usual flu season.  He said the most challenging aspect for hospital management right now is staffing.  Do you let people go?  What would you do if trends suddenly reverse or there’s an outbreak of infectious disease?  I suppose this CEO is fortunate as I have heard from other colleagues that business in some American hospitals is down as much as 29 percent.

Healthcare and winemaking have much in common.  Both are subject to the vagaries of the economy.  Both require heavy investments up front.  Average consumers don’t know much about the true parameters of quality.  Pruning isn’t optional, and you’ll need plenty of patience (or should I say patients) to make a go of it. 

Bill Crounse, MD   Senior Director, Worldwide Health   Microsoft Corporation

Comments (2)

  1. David S. says:

    Hi Doc,

    Loved your article.  I have lived in california and am a big fan of wines, although whites can be good, red is my favorite.  I now live in Southern Spain where you get a large variety of wines for such a small country.  I have heard about the health benefits for the heart of drinking approximately 8 ounces of wine a day.  Recently I ran into an article that was claimming that wines had been contaminated with a series of heavy metals.  I found this out after investigating about a product named Heavy metal detox and learning of the alarming symptoms one can suffer from toxic heavy metals.  It’s no large amount in wine, but when you drink as much as the Spanish do, well it could become an issue.

    I was curious to know if you had heard of such claims and could elaborate.  Thanks a bunch.  And greetings from southern Spain!


  2. hlthblog says:

    Thanks for writing, Dave.  Indeed, heavy metals such as lead and mercury are very toxic to the body especially the nervous system.  I have not come across anything in the medical literature to suggest that heavy metals in wine are a danger as they are in tuna and certain other kinds of fish.  Frankly I wouldn’t worry about wine.  If you are drinking enough wine that trace amounts of heavy metal threaten health, you probably have other reasons to be concerned.

    Bill Crounse, MD

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