Many of the people we meet as publicists, in the wine business, have separate worlds. This was the case for Dr. Marvin Poston, when I met him. While he grew gapes on his property in Calistoga, called Poston Crest Vineyards, he also was a very prominent ophthalmologist.

The reason I’m writing this story is because I just found some negatives and images from Dr. Marvin Poston’s vineyard in Calistoga, and it has me remembering one of the sweetest, most soft spoken men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I also just heard that that we only live as long as we remain in people’s memories and they talk about us. So, here’s to you, Marvin, one of the gentlest of grape growers who simply understood what I wanted to do, accepting and supporting my public relations help quite graciously.

This story is dedicated to Dr. Marvin Poston, a former ophthalmologist and grape grower of African American descent.

From a story that I wrote for Wine Business Monthly, on March 3, 2002, called, The Changing Face of the American Wine Industry ~ For Every Macrocosm, There Is a Microcosm :

Dr. Marvin Poston – Calistoga ophthalmologist Dr. Marvin Poston has been selling his grapes to Kirkland [now out of business] for the last 26 years. Dr. Poston was a graduate of U.C. Berkley in 1939. He quietly moved in Napa Valley, and has been growing grapes ever since. So, when Alan [Goldfarb, wine writer] was asking his question about “Where are they?”… there was an answer, and has been for quite a while, including the Brown Family at the time Goldfarb was wondering.

Once I wrote the story, and I had found quite a few African American vintners in the process, I saw the big picture. There should be a marketing group.

Getting the Association of the African American Vintners going was very tricky, though, for me. The general consensus was, “Why would you, an Anglo woman, want to even do such a thing?”

My answer was pretty straight froward in my own mind:

  1. I’m a publicist, and I see the tremendous advantage for this story to be fascinating.
    • This was pre- Web 2.0, so there was no real way for me to get this story onto the Internet without the help of my writer colleagues.
    • Once I saw that the story had reached Malaysia, a year after I had started the group, I knew that I was dead on.
  2. I’m a woman, and I understand being the underdog in business.
    • This attitude doesn’t exist within the wine writing community, I’m happy to say.
    • But… we all know about corporate America…
  3. Wine is heart healthy.
    • African Americans have a high rate of heart disease.
    • With African American vintners making wine, they would serve as great role models.
    • I care about all people’s health, not just my Anglo friends.
  4. The African American community would want to know.
    • Bring out an emerging demographic.
    • Present positive role models for younger African Americans needing that kind of inspiration.

It turns out that I was right on all counts.

I met and worked with many African American vintners for a while, with Marvin being the one man who not only understood my motivations, but he also gave me great support from the start… No interrogation or mistrust.

It wasn’t until I just decided to do a bit of research on this man within his medical profession, versus grape growing practices, that I learned why we clicked.

I found an oral transcript entitled, The University of California Black Alumni Series, Marvin Poston, Making Opportunities in Vision Care, with an Introduction by Norvil Smith. It was an interview conducted by Gabrielle Morris in 1984 and 1985, for the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley

Marvin Poston, on Resistance from the Medical Profession:

They’re looking for pathological symptoms. I think optometry came into being because medicine didn’t bother much with the eyes.

 Morris asks, “And ophthalmology is not a very big practice within medicine?”

Dr. Poston answers:

“Oh, it is a good discipline. It’s been very popular in the last fifteen or twenty years. But optometrists came into the field and started filling a need. And I think that’s why they survived. Their biggest problem as I’ve seen through the years has been medicine. Medicine has—organized medicine, not individual practitioners, but organized medicine has always been at work in the background. Not only against optometry. They fight dentists too. They fight psychologists. They fight podiatrists…. They fight them all. They consider themselves the kingpins. And they don’t want anybody to trade on their territory. And I understand that. If I make a lot of money, I don’t want anybody to take it away from me.

The  interview continues with more Morris Q&A, and then Morris asks, “In doing these vision screening things and your other work, did you find that there were any special vision concerns for black people?” Marvin answers:

“No, we didn’t do it on ethnic groups at all. It was just done for the general public. And it was done more as an educational program. You stopped and had your vision screened. If we found something wrong, then we would talk to you about what was wrong, and that you should see a practitioner. We didn’t say you had to see an optometrist, you had to see an eye practitioner. I guess medicine got some benefits from it. They probably fought it too.”

I also discovered that Dr. Poston was a philanthropist, although I’m not surprised…

The Marvin R. Poston Vision Service Plan Excellence in Primary Care: This award goes to a student who shows excellence in primary eye care, is in the top half of the class, and has made a commitment to enter the independent practice of optometry.

From VSP Vision Care Blog: He was the was the first African American student admitted to the study of optometry at University of California, Berkeley, in 1935. It took another 23 years for the second African American student to follow in his footsteps and graduate from the Berkeley School of Optometry. Dr. Poston later became the first African American licensed to practice optometry on the West Coast.

That’s what I loved about Marvin, he recognized needs and filled them.  It was always beyond the obvious, and we were kindred spirits in that way. Your memory still lives on, Marvin. See you in the great beyond.


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