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  • Writer's pictureAndrea L Merrill

Laurence Brinckerhoff: Winemaker and Bread Baker

I grew up in rural Vermont. Some of my earliest memories are seeing my Dad make bread - the smell of it coming out of the oven, the steam rising off of it and seeing the way butter melted on it still warm.  Then the taste! 

I did not start baking bread until I had my own children.  I loved to see the excitement on their faces when the bread dough was rising or when the loaf came out of the oven. And the bread was good. It really was.

I think surgeons are curious by nature and so I begin to learn about bread.  The history.  The techniques.  The importance of bread to people across all cultures.I learned about natural yeast/wild yeast as different from the store yeast.  I learned that modern store bread is not what bread has traditional been.I learned about the health benefits of using wild yeast.

I wanted to try my hand at this more traditional manner of making bread. And, I failed at it terribly.

It took me two years to trial and error to understand the process and to create bread that was worth the effort.

During the same period of time my wife gifted me with a home wine making kit. I was interested as wine seemed to parallel bread in so many ways.  And let's be honest.....bread and wine together! I learned about the different yeasts for wine.  I learned that like bread, wine today is not what it once was.  So many wine producers alter the wine with chemicals and additives. 

So I tried to make wine.  I purchased grapes and grape juice and did my own fermentation.  And, I failed at it terribly. The first few batches could be used as varnish remover.  But I learned and it took several years before I was making wine that was pretty good.

And then we did something really strange - we planted 1,000 vines in the south western part of Virginia.  Now we were in control of every aspect of wine making, I love being out in the vineyard and working with the vines and grapes. We can control every aspect of the growing process from the fertilizer to the insect repellents.  And we can control how the wine if produced. No additive and no chemicals.  We believe in letting the grape be the grape and the wine is what comes from the grape naturally.

Surgeons carry a large burden.  Anything we do can help cure but it can also harm. The OR is structured and sterile.  It's this wonderful place of opportunity to impact the lives or other people.

It is also a place of bleeding and death and impossible odds. Both bread making and wine making allow me to explore my desire to learn and create. They give me an outlet to try and fail without consequences. My bread fails to rise, oh well, I will  try again tomorrow. My wine is too acidic, oh well, we can try a different pruning strategy next year.

I did not know that I needed a balance to the sterility and pressure of the OR. The use of older and more basic techniques brings my life back into balance.  Like hot bread coming out of the oven on a cold Vermont winter day.

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