George and Trudy Heiss are marking 50 years of marriage and 30 years of producing wine at Gray Monk Winery.

George and Trudy Heiss are marking 50 years of marriage and 30 years of producing wine at Gray Monk Winery.

Winery gets ready to celebrate

Gray Monk marks 30 years of producing wine and four decades of growing grapes

Bobbi-Sue Menard

Black Press

It is a milestone year of celebration for Gray Monk Winery.

A Lake Country landmark, Gray Monk is celebrating 30-40-50. That is 30 years of producing wines, 40 years of vines in the ground and 50 years of marriage. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.

George and Trudy Heiss have built one of the most recognized wineries in the province with a mixture of hard work, love and a little bit of luck.

“We take what we make seriously but not ourselves,” laughs Trudy.

Getting ready for the celebrations is one more element on which the Heiss’ can put their signature stamp. Flags and decorations will be going up at Gray Monk for the season and events tied in with the B.C. culinary team have been planned.

The actual birthday of the winery is June 14.

George and Trudy have been in Lake Country since 1972 and have seen the community around them change and grow.

Trudy remarks that the Okanagan Centre area used to be called the city but it has since become sleepy hollow.

As a family-owned estate winery, Gray Monk is one of only a few originals wineries left from the tough transition years of the 1980s as the industry found its way into the national and international market place.

Gray Monk is a strong supporter of the Vintners Quality Alliance program.

Both George and Trudy believe the VQA has been a significant contributor to their winery’s success. Gray Monk wines have consistently sailed through VQA tasting panels.

Gray Monk was established as a winery in 1982 after years of George and Trudy growing grapes for other wineries.

It was the most northerly winery in the Okanagan at the time.

Gray Monk started off as a winning enterprise. Just months after opening, the winery’s 1981 gewurztraminer was acclaimed in first place and the 1981 auxerrois in second in the people’s choice awards at the inaugural Okanagan Wine Festival.

By the early 1990s, Gray Monk was producing as many as 24 different wines each year, including sparkling wines for anniversaries.

This milestone year includes 200 cases of sparkling wine.

The winery has a scope that reaches far beyond Lake Country.

Gray Monk owns about 100 acres throughout the Okanagan Valley and leases another 250 acres.

Last year saw record-setting production with 80,000 cases, a big increase from the previous high of 72,000 cases.

It takes 1,100 tonnes of grapes to product slightly more than one million bottles of wine, and about 38 people on year-round staff to meet the production demand.

“It is almost mind boggling,” admits Trudy.

Almost 25 per cent of the production is sold through the winery’s own on-site wine shop.

It represents a huge economic impact on Lake Country as up to a quarter-of-a-million people from around the world traverse the winding hillside roads to the winery perched above Okanagan Lake each year.

For the first 27 years that massive number of guests was hosted in the old winery shop, but new facilities were completed just a few seasons ago.

“I don’t know how we did it,” recalls Trudy.