Dr. John Bry, bringing in the harvest
Dr. John Bry, bringing in the harvest

Q&A: This vintner grows his grapes with surgical precision

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Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Dr. John Bry is a surgeon who also makes wine from grapes grown at his home in Richmond under the label Perfusion Vineyard. He often can be found at the Grand Lake and San Rafael farmers markets, selling his pinot noir.

J.: I recently interviewed the head of thoracic surgery at UCSF who just went into the bagel business, and now you. What gives?

John Bry: Yes, I’m a vascular surgeon in the East Bay, working at both the Sutter Health and John Muir Health hospitals. I used to live close to some people who would taste wines together, which led to them securing some grapes and making garage wine. I enjoyed it, even though I didn’t have much of a palate then. But I had always enjoyed gardening, and when I moved to a home in Wildcat Canyon, the real estate agent had noted its great southwest exposure. So I did a bunch of research and soil samples and learned that pinot noir grapes might grow there, and I took a chance. 

How did your winery start?

In 2007, I hired a vineyard manager who, with his crew, planted mostly pinot noir grapes, and I put in some Tuscan olive trees for olive oil. We started making olive oil in 2013 and wine in 2012. My production is very small, 50 to 75 cases per year at this point. With the encouragement of a couple of people who recognized it was good wine, I submitted it to a wine editor and critic. I was expecting him to say ‘Stick to your day job,’ but rather, he said, ‘You have something here.’ So now we are fully licensed.

I’m the guy walking down the rows of grapevines and freaking out when I see the gopher holes.

Is there any connection between your Jewish heritage and your wine interest?

Not really. I grew up very Reform in Connecticut. When asked if I wanted to have a bar mitzvah, my answer was “not really.” An interesting anecdote about my name, though, is that it’s an acronym for ‘Ben Rab Yisrael,’ and I know there’s some truth to it because I met another person once with the same last name who had heard a similar story.

You have a winemaker, Tom Leaf, so what is your role at Perfusion Vineyard?

I’m the one out there taking care of my grapes and olives all year round. I do all of that myself. I pick and deliver all of the grapes and assist with the crush. By the time the olives and grapes are gone, I’m wiped out and want a few months off, but taking care of the grapes and olives is the most fun for me. I also sell the wine at the two farmers markets. I love seeing the surprise and delight from marketgoers that this comes from Richmond. The best experience for me is the guy who passes by the booth but somehow gets drawn in, and then tastes the wine and really enjoys it.

As a surgeon, I’ve got a major responsibility and a serious intensity to my work day-to-day, so I really enjoy the ability to be among the people in the market on the weekends. I’m also the guy walking down the rows of grapevines and freaking out when I see the gopher holes. 

Do you know if you’re the only one making wine from grapes grown in Richmond?

I don’t know of anyone growing commercially. There might be some tiny vines somewhere, but my answer is no, with 97 percent certainty.

What are your future plans for your property?

We have three acres. We’ve had two meetings with the county supervisors and one in charge of arts and culture for the city. We’re in talks with a builder-architect about making our barn into a rentable event spot that overlooks the vineyard. After 25 years of vascular surgery, that will be a great retirement, where I can just be a caretaker on the property and have income from that in a few years.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."