GRAY MONK BEGINNINGS
Gray Monk was founded by George and Trudy Heiss. George is originally from Austria and Trudy is originally from Germany, but they met at a hairdressing competition in Edmonton, AB. After starting their family, in the early 1970s George and Trudy made the decision to move out to the Okanagan Valley. With this move came a career change for both, as they decided to move away from hairdressing and toward the wine industry. When George and Trudy originally purchased the property that Gray Monk sits on, it was an orchard, but they were not interested in growing orchard fruit, so they decided to remove the original fruit trees and to plant wine grapes instead.
The original vineyard was planted in 1972. The Heiss family originally grew grapes for commercial wineries, but later decided that were not satisfied with what was being produced from their grapes. They then decided to try out making their own wine from vinifera varietals. In 1976, the Heiss family imported Pinot Gris, Pinot Auxerrois and Gewurztraminer root stock from Alsace, France. In doing so, they were the first to plant the Pinot Gris vine in Canada. When deciding upon a name for their future winery, it thus was only natural to incorporate a nod to its future claim to fame as well as George’s family history. “Gray Monk” is the English translation of the Austrian name for the Pinot Gris vine. After allowing for a few years for the vines to begin producing, Gray Monk opened its doors in 1982 and soon developed a favorable reputation, particularly for its fruit-forward white wines. The first vintage was produced out of a garage on the property and consisted of 125 cases. Since the first vintage, production has increased to over 100,000 cases per year.
At the time that George and Trudy were mulling over producing their own wine, their son George Jr. was graduating from high school. George and Trudy asked if he would be interested in winemaking. He decided to enroll in an enology and viticulture program in Germany. After four years of studies at Geisenheim University, George Jr. arrived back in Canada in 1984, just in time to help with the harvest and to take on his new role as winemaker. With each of the three sons eventually taking their own role within the winery’s operation, it can be said that the roots of Gray Monk began not only in the vineyard, but in the family.
George and Trudy are regarded as pioneers of the BC wine industry, not only for being the first to plant Pinot Gris in Canada, but also for their work in establishing the estate winery system. When Gray Monk opened its doors in 1982 as the third estate winery in BC, it marked a pinnacle for BC wines. The market was originally dominated by commercial wineries, which made it difficult for individual producers to make wine from the grapes that they grew. However, through George and Trudy’s work to open Gray Monk and to change existing regulations, things began to change. With George and Trudy at the forefront, winery owners eventually banded together to create the VQA (Vintners’ Quality Alliance), which firmly legitimized estate wineries in British Columbia. Over the ensuing decades, the wine industry grew significantly, with new wineries popping up seemingly every month. Today there are over 300 wineries in BC.
After thirty-five years of proprietorship, which saw growth within the winery and the opening of the restaurant in 2002, George and Trudy made the difficult decision to retire from the wine industry. Gray Monk was thus acquired by Andrew Peller Limited (APL) in 2017. Andrew Peller has continued to build upon the work of the Heiss family by producing award-winning wines that are renowned for their quality and their amazing value.