Gray Monk Estate Winery continues to serve up some of the finest, most popular and reasonably-priced wines in Canada, and they do so in a style that reflects their own exciting brand of hospitality and a heartfelt welcome to their visitors. The phrase is becoming well-known amongst Gray Monk wine enthusiasts, as it marks a number of milestones.
Once again this year, people from across North America and around the globe will flock to Gray Monk to sample some of their renowned wines. When they do, they’ll find a celebratory note in the air as Gray Monk continues their 30-40-50 festivities throughout the year.
30 years ago, the winery opened its doors for the first time and 40 years ago, they started their vineyard. Perhaps most important of all is the “50” in 30-40-50, which represents Proprietors George and Trudy Heiss’s Golden Wedding Anniversary.
George and Trudy met in 1961 at a hairstyling convention in Alberta. It was, they agree, love at first sight. They married in 1962, hence the 50 year anniversary. Ultimately they decided to move to the Okanagan where Trudy’s parents had relocated and planted a vineyard.
40 years ago, in 1972, the Heiss’s founded their Okanagan vineyard when they converted an old orchard into red hybrid varieties. It didn’t take long to realize that was the wrong way to go, and they were soon on the lookout to import vinifera grapes from France. A few years later they obtained 2,000 vines of Auxerrois, 50 of Pinot Gris and 10 of Gewürztraminer from a nursery in Alsace, creating a lasting foothold in the vineyard.
30 years ago, in 1982, Gray Monk Estate Winery opened its doors. They chose the name ‘Gray Monk’ because in Austria and Hungary, the common name for “Pinot Gris” means “Gray Monk.” The winery was located on a striking site overlooking Okanagan Lake, half way down a vineyard slope.
George and Trudy opened their doors at a time when only a few estate wineries were operating. Claremont Wines, Vinaterra (later to become Inniskillin Okanagan), Sumac Ridge and Uniacke (which later became CedarCreek) were pioneering the estate winery concept when Gray Monk came on board.
“It was not a stable time,” Trudy remembers. “We expanded as we could afford to, without the help of a lot of banks. The quality of our wine and the prices have been consistent throughout all that time. We really do appreciate what we have. It wasn’t luck. It was a lot of hard work.”
George and Trudy are both still very active at Gray Monk, along with their three sons. On any given day you’ll find them talking to customers, dealing with the vineyard or – as tradition dictates – Trudy hard at work putting together over 40 stunning hanging floral pots.
The Heiss family doesn’t have a lot of time away from the winery and vineyards, but when they do, George and Trudy know how to make the best of it. They love to travel and can be found anywhere from Vancouver Island on a fishing trip, to a mountain cottage in the Alps. George’s second love is his sailboat, The Odyssey, on which you’ll find them navigating the waters off of the Pacific Coast, often with family or friends.
Gray Monk has produced wines which were popular with wine aficionados since their inception. At this time, the 2009 through 2011 vintages are available. Gray Monk produces 3 tiers of wine, within which there is something for every palate and special occasion. The Latitude 50 series, an all-time favourite, is a trio of red, white and rosé wines which exemplify the fresh fruit forward wines of the Okanagan.
The Estate Series is a collection of wines which express the unique terroir of Gray Monk’s central Okanagan location and European winemaking roots. The third is the Odyssey series, which they describe as “a true journey in winemaking…that pays tribute to the best each vintage has to offer.” Special grapes from their finest vineyards are set aside for these outstanding limited release wines.
In recognition of the 30-40-50 milestone, the Heiss family has crafted a small lot of a sparkling, traditional Brut called Celebration. 200 cases of this celebrated sparkler is available for purchase only at the winery.
Trudy recommends their new dessert wine, Reflection, which is a blend of Orange Muscat and Muscat Canelli. The Orange Muscat is grown in their South Okanagan Pay Dirt Vineyards. Gray Monk owns 13 acres boasting perfect growing conditions. They also grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as the grapes for their Red Meritage.
Trudy also recommends the 2011 Pinot Gris, which she describes as a “total fruit bomb.”
“This is the first time we’ll have enough to get through the year. Everyone loves this amazing wine. Lots of wineries have a Pinot Gris, but ours is just so different.”
Trudy reflects back on the journey she, George and their family have taken.
“It’s a good feeling to know what you have created, to know your work has resulted in what you’ve done successfully.”
Indeed, the Heiss family has much to be proud of. Their unique approach to winemaking, their high standards and their harda work have paid off.
“Our wines are very user-friendly,” she said. “They’re hard to say but easy to enjoy!”
~ Deanna Rainey