A Toast to Hope: A Journey of Wine Making and Prostate Cancer Advocacy - Robert Hollander

January 31, 2023

Bob Hollander shares how his fascination with wine began during medical school, leading him through Napa and eventually to create his own award-winning blends. However, his life took an unexpected turn when, after a series of missed diagnoses, he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. Instead of succumbing to adversity, Dr. Hollander transformed his love for wine into a philanthropic endeavor. He founded a foundation, funding it through winemaking and crowdfunding campaigns on Indiegogo. Donors receive wine as a token of appreciation, mimicking NPR's annual drive. Proceeds support prostate cancer research, with a focus on genomics and immunotherapy, fields Dr. Hollander believes hold the cure. Dr. Morgans directs viewers to donate through a provided link, supporting a cause that merges passion, adversity, and hope.


Robert Hollander, MD, President, Robert & Susan Hollander Foundation

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, Genitourinary Medical Oncologist, Medical Director of Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

Read the Full Video Transcript

Alicia Morgans: Hi, I'm so excited to be here with Bob Hollander, where we're talking about his award-winning wine and how he is using that wine to actually raise money for prostate cancer research. Thank you so much for being here with me today, Bob.

Robert Hollander: Thanks for inviting me. It's special to be here. I appreciate it.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. Now, I know you're traveling the world, doing all kinds of exciting things. It's a very busy summer, and I appreciate you taking the time because this is a really important event that we wanted to share and make known.

Now, you, over time, have had an interest in wine. You also are a physician. And as you experience this love of wine and love of caring for others, you also found, at some point, that you were diagnosed with prostate cancer. This allowed you to meld those worlds, come together to make wine now for the purpose of really helping others through these donations that you make to prostate cancer research. Can you tell me a little bit about your story?

Robert Hollander: Sure. My interest in wine started in medical school. I worked as a waiter-bartender at a kind of fancy banquet facility and I was exposed to food and wine. Exposed to it, we weren't supposed to partake in it, but nonetheless, it was there. And I kind of discovered that, wow, this is interesting, this whole food and wine thing.

When I started my residency in the UCLA system, a couple of my co-interns also shared that interest in wine, and we started a little wine tasting group for fun, started drinking wine together and started collecting, became interested in cooking, the whole pairing of food and wine. And it was just something that I enjoyed.

And somewhere along the way, I think we were on our honeymoon, we went through Napa. And I think anybody who's interested in wine who passes through Napa kind of toys with the idea of actually making wine. Toyed with it, put it on the back burner, and just kind of forgot about it, but over the next couple decades continued to collect, drink, enjoy wine and explore wine and cooking. So that was the first part of it, just the general interest in wine.

So I continue to collect wine and enjoy wine and wine and cooking. And I read an article, I think it was in Food & Wine magazine, about a facility at Napa that allowed individuals to make a barrel of wine. They sourced the grapes, they had the facilities, and I decided to pursue that. It was a bit of an indulgent hobby, but I rationalized it. The cost of the barrel broken down, the cost per bottle. If your mind's nimble enough, you can rationalize just about anything you want.

So in 2007, I made a barrel of Zinfandel, which I called Zinpiphany, and I made a barrel of a Syrah blend, kind of modeled after a Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a Syrah-Grenache-Mourvedre blend.

And my first bottling in 2007, they were great. I entered them in competitions. They did well. And I did it again the following year. The problem with doing this, though, is you make a barrel of wine and suddenly, you have 300 bottles, which is... It's a lot of wine. And I looked into marketing it, I was not successful. A part of the problem being is that I was a full-time physician and the wine making was a hobby.

Things kind of took a turn on the pathway to the whole prostate cancer thing. I was a year or two past 50, that point in your life where you're supposed to be grown-up and see a doctor and do all those doctor things that you do when you turn 50. And my first PSA, the screening test, came back slightly elevated. My primary doctor repeated it. it came back elevated just a little bit higher. He referred me for a panel of biopsies and they were read as no cancer. Not normal, but no cancer.

Two years later, my PSA had gone from five to 95. I went back to the urologist. I was actually scared, then. And I said, "Just take it out. I mean, what else could it possibly be?" But he assured me that, in his skilled hands, that the biopsy would be definitive. It, again, was read as not normal, but no cancer. And he told me that my PSA will always be high, never check it again. I know. And a year later, I was out one morning doing my usual daily workout, which... I'd put a rope up in my backyard. I did a straight leg rope climb. And this one particular morning, I had this strange internal tug in my pelvis that I'd never had before. And I thought, "Well, that's not right." Didn't correspond to any muscle or any anatomic part that I knew of. And I monitored it for a week and made an appointment to see my primary. And I said, "There's something going on here. Something doesn't feel right."

He got a CAT scan and my pelvis was filled with bulky metastatic disease. And my PSA was 250. So that was the pathway to the cancer diagnosis. And once the diagnosis was established and treatment was started, I had been reflecting on the fact that mistakes were made on the path to the diagnosis and contacted the university's risk management department. After they reviewed my case, they offered me a sum of money. Not that much in the grand scheme of things, considering that the sum of money was the trade-off for leaving with the diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer. It was really kind of a trivial amount.

And I initially walked away from it, but in the end, I figured the most expeditious way to put everything behind and to move forward was to take the settlement. The medical center offered me the settlement. I used it to fund the foundation.

And then, I took my winemaking, which really, up until that point, had been an indulgent hobby, and used the winemaking to fund the foundation with the intent of using all proceeds to support prostate cancer research. And I started using crowdfunding on Indiegogo, crowdfunding website to raise the money for my barrel costs, with the idea that people would fund the campaign, they would get the wine as a gift, sort of like when you support NPRs annual drive and you get a tote bag. Well, instead of a tote bag, you would get a bottle or a six-pack or a case or more. And that was my way of just trying to do something positive out of a difficult situation.

Alicia Morgans: That's a really incredible story, and really powerful in the way that you took your love and passion for wine and a terrible experience, and really turned it into something pretty amazing. I'm just wondering, with the money that you're raising, how do you choose who gets that money and which projects you're investing in?

Robert Hollander: Right. That's a great question. So, having been through therapy for metastatic prostate cancer and knowing that what I have, statistically, is guaranteed to come back, I'm kind of interested in people who are doing research that's going to lead to a definitive cure. And I don't think it's any secret to... Or not rocket science to say that the answer to prostate cancer, as it is with most cancers, is going to lie in genomics and immunotherapy.

So I look at the published literature and I look for people who are doing work with genomics, genetics, the mutations, the driver mutations for prostate cancer, and things that might lead to some of the therapies that you've seen with immunotherapy for other solid cancers. So I review the literature and I also draw upon the people that have received gifts from the foundation in the past. And I've asked them, "Who are the young investigators that are doing work in this area?" And that's been useful as well.

Alicia Morgans: Well, that is perfect. And for those who are interested in contributing to this cause, please follow the link on this page, or go to indiegogo.com and search "2red", where you can donate and find some great wine that also might just help cure prostate cancer. Thank you so much for your time.

Robert Hollander: Thanks for having me here.