On the surface, the practice of medicine — both the traditional and non-traditional approaches — would seem to have little in common with the growing of wine grapes. For Dr. Robert Gross, there is a strong connection between his training as a Psychiatrist, and viticulture. This episode draws upon the rich interplay between two completely separate fields, each helping to enhance better understanding with the other.
It’s hard to tell how agriculture is influenced by medicine, and how medicine is influenced by agriculture because it kind of flows back and forth
My main job is being a psychiatrist, a medical doctor in which I practice mostly psychotherapy with some medication, and I mix that with alternative medicine which includes acupuncture and homeopathy.
And then I run Cooper Mountain Vineyards. Grapes are a lot like human beings in that when they’re real young they don’t show the same maturity that an older vine, or older person, might show. And so the grapes become much more elegant, sophisticated, and balanced — as human beings usually do too — as they get older. Then, of course, at some point in life, or in the age of the vine, they start fading.
My growth as a Doctor, and as a Farmer and Winemaker, have fed each other. As an example, I know in this plot here, in the early 1980s, we were using some chemicals that were available and were used to keep the birds off these grapes. We would apply the chemical fairly close to the harvest. The birds would eat it and eventually vomit because it affected their nervous systems. We were all told that these chemicals disappear. There were 10 days [after application] that we didn’t pick.
And then Canada decided they were going to measure the amount [of that chemical] that was left in the wine… something that most of us hadn’t thought about because we had been told it was all gone. Canada eventually banned the substance because it was a neurotoxin… a neurotoxin not just for birds, but a neurotoxin for human beings too.
That knowledge came from agriculture… learning about birds and what it does, and realizing that Canada banned it, and the United States hadn’t even thought of banning it. That got me thinking about how that affects our health all the time… what are the tiny little substances that we don’t pay much attention to… these small amounts of chemicals that the big companies say are trace amounts… what kind of effect can they have?
Then I started studying that, as a Doctor, realizing it doesn’t take very much of anything to make major changes in the body system, the immune system, I began studying that side of medicine and minimized the amount of medicines I was using.
I came upon Homeopathy which, in a way, is acknowledging that trace amounts of something can have a huge effect on the body system — in a good way — if they are natural substances and are selected correctly… as opposed to the man-made chemicals that if used in these tiny amounts can do so much damage.
I then realized that same system for the human being, in Homeopathy, had been used in agriculture by Rudolf Steiner in what was called Biodynamic farming… in which he had taken some of those homeopathic substances from nature and sprayed them on the plants… substances such as quartz, and valarian, and dandelion, and oak, and horsetail. He noticed that spraying them on the plants increased the balance and the strength of the plant making them more resistant to the disease.
As that was going on, then again in my medical way of looking at things, it became more apparent to me to focus on the prevention of disease by strengthening the organism… which is what Biodynamics does to the plant and what alternative medicine does. It makes the body stronger, enhances the immune system, naturally fighting off diseases instead of “silver bullets” that are used in traditional medicine and traditional agriculture with drugs and chemicals.
So, back and forth, that is how my mind developed in treating plants and people pretty much the same… trying to put them in balance — not get away from the stress idea, but put a mild stress on the system so it builds up its own immunity — through Organics and Biodynamics That is how we evolved here in the vineyard.
See video here→