August 2013




Virginia ophthalmologist balances eyecare and winemaking

by Ellen Stodola EyeWorld Staff Writer

Dr. Cooper poses with barrels of his wine. The wine is stored in barrels or large stainless steel tanks.

The tasting room of Cooper Vineyards features a bar area and opens onto a deck where live music often plays.

Solar panels are just one of the "green" features that Cooper Vineyards uses to help attain its LEED Platinum certification.

Dr. Cooper stands next to a row of Cab Franc vines, one type of grape grown at Cooper Vineyards. The winery uses several other varieties of grapes, including the Virginia Norton grapes.

Source (all): EyeWorld

Geoffrey Cooper, MD, is co-owner of Cooper Vineyards in Louisa County and practices in the Richmond, Va. area

An interest in wine and a determination to find an additional hobby was the push Geoffrey Cooper, MD, president elect of the Virginia Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, needed to start his own winery more than a decade ago. Despite working full time at an ophthalmology practice, the Virginia Eye Institute, in Richmond, Va., Dr. Cooper still finds time to co-own and operate the vineyard that bears his name. Dr. Cooper spoke to EyeWorld about his ophthalmology work, time spent at his vineyard, and how he got involved with both professions.

Getting into ophthalmology

Starting his medical career, Dr. Cooper did not initially think that he would be an ophthalmologist. After attending Johns Hopkins University as an undergrad and graduating from medical school at Tulane University, he moved to the Richmond, Va. area. Originally from Bethesda, Md., Dr. Cooper had grown up in a suburban area with no real medical background in his family. After attending medical school, he thought he would become a family physician.

After becoming intrigued by surgery, Dr. Cooper gravitated toward Richmond and the medical center, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Medicine, with an interest in becoming a cardiac surgeon. He even began to get into cardiac research.

However, during his second year of residency at VCU, Dr. Cooper said he had a "flash of inspiration," that he should instead become an ophthalmologist. After that, he said, he never looked back.

Dr. Cooper continued at VCU for his ophthalmology training and decided to stay in Richmond when it came time to set up a practice.

Opening his own practice and current work

Just days after finishing his residency in 1987, Dr. Cooper began his own private practice, working in comprehensive ophthalmology and performing cataract and refractive procedures. He described his practice as a broad-based ophthalmology practice. "My practice reflects the community as a whole in Richmond," he said. Just last year, Dr. Cooper made a major change to his work in ophthalmology. After being in solo practice for 25 years, he made the decision to join a larger practice, going from working alone to working with about 30 other ophthalmologists. Dr. Cooper still practices full time, seeing patients in the office four days a week and operating one half day a week.

The idea and finding a location for a winery

It was in the middle of his ophthalmology career that the idea of opening a winery came to him. Although he had no background in vineyards or winemaking, Dr. Cooper said he had always enjoyed wine as a hobby, recognizing it as something that's hard to learn everything about.

After establishing his practice, he was looking for new challenges and adventures, and rather than "doubling down on medicine," he chose to open a vineyard.

Since his father had grown up on a farm, Dr. Cooper said he had it in his head that he wanted to farm or grow something. "I started looking for land where I'd be able to grow grapes and make wine," he said.

Finding a location was challenging at first because he was looking for something so specific. The land needed to have the correct soil type for a vineyard, and he wanted a place that was near Richmond. Eventually, he found the current location, and Cooper Vineyards was licensed in 1999.

Getting into the winery business Dr. Cooper said that although he never considered himself an entrepreneur, he believes a common attribute is that entrepreneurs do not have any notion of failure, and he was determined to make his winery work.

Not having experience in winemaking did not stop him. Dr. Cooper said he had to ask questions and learn along the way, and a major goal for him was to continuously improve each year.

"My goal was to have a winery that would be a small production that would create wines that expressed the area, that would be sought after and high quality," he said.

Initially Dr. Cooper was the winemaker, but as time went on, the vineyard hired another more experienced winemaker. Despite cutting back on his winemaking responsibilities, Dr. Cooper still has a lot to do at the vineyard and frequently works with the vines. He has a partner, co-owner of the vineyard, Jacquelyn Hogge, MD, a doctor and radiologist who also works in Richmond.

Growing over the years

Dr. Cooper noted the vineyard's progression to get to where it is today. Currently there are around 240 wineries in Virginia, and when Cooper Vineyards was opened, it was number 53 in the state. One obstacle was that when the vineyard opened, the general opinion was that a smaller winery was not able to produce as good quality wine. But being a smaller winery can help promote attention to detail and a good product, Dr. Cooper said, and Cooper Vineyards is considered to be in the top tier of wineries in Virginia.

Cooper Vineyards holds a number of events. The winery does SPCA events, among other things. It has a wine club and will have pick-up parties for orders. Dr. Cooper said the winery offers the option of rentals for weddings, private tastings, and other events.

Cooper Vineyards participates in wine competitions on a local and national level. This year, it earned a spot for one of its wines, the 2010 Petit Verdot Reserve, in the Governor's Case, which consists of 12 wines chosen for the state from the Virginia Governor's Cup Awards.

Dr. Cooper said the vineyard will make 12 or 13 wines each year, with the goal of appealing to the public as much as possible with its different varieties. Cooper Vineyards has a number of red, white, and sweet wines. Dr. Cooper said that initially, when he was mainly representing the vineyard at wine festivals, the sweet wines were the most popular option. One of the most popular of the Cooper Vineyards wines is Noche, a chocolate sweet wine.

The tasting room and winery setup

One of the truly unique features of Cooper Vineyards is its tasting room, which earned a LEED Platinum certification for its "green" features. Dr. Cooper said when it came time to focus on the tasting room, this was something that was important to him since he has been a strong environmental supporter for quite some time.

The goal was to do something that was both environmentally friendly and respected the site that the vineyard is on, which has historical significance. "Ours is the first LEED Platinum certified winery-related building east of the Mississippi and only the second one in the country," Dr. Cooper said. Some of the features of the tasting room include solar power panels, energy-efficient windows and lighting fixtures, and the use of reclaimed or locally sourced material.

The idea with the tasting room and vineyard as a whole was to create a nice aesthetic so that people would want to linger. "Our winery is directly adjacent to vines and our tasting room is directly adjacent to vines because it's all part of the same thing," Dr. Cooper said. The design for the winery was created by Michael Pellis, an architect from California, who Dr. Cooper said helped create an incredible design that both he and his partner agreed on.

Schedule and current work with the winery Still in practice as an ophthalmologist and operating a winery keeps Dr. Cooper quite busy. "The days I do surgery, I go out to the winery in the afternoon and I'll spray the vines." He is at the winery on weekends working events or tastings there or at various wine festivals. He said he spends around 20 hours a week working with the winery, in addition to the 36 to 40 hour week he works as an ophthalmologist.

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