Gray Monk Estate Winery has three reasons to celebrate
Quite a milestone—a triple milestone, no less!—for one of the Okanagan’s original family wineries. Gray Monk, in Lake Country out past Kelowna, is the only one that’s been operated by four generations. It’s still a true family business, and you have to wonder how they’ve managed to resist the many overtures to sell that must surely have been made over the decades.
This year, the Heiss family and its winery will celebrate big-time. It’s 30/40/50—30 years of winemaking, 40 years of grape growing, and 50 years of marriage for the founders, George and Trudy Heiss. Gray Monk remains a family operation, with the three Heiss sons managing 40-plus hectares of vines and producing an extensive portfolio of red, white, pink, sparkling, and dessert wines, a list that just happens to include many long-time personal favourites.
George and Trudy still run the place, while Robert is the operations manager. George Jr. is the principal winemaker (with a little support from Canada’s greatest Riesling maker, Roger Wong), while Steven is the marketing manager. Since it was established in 1982, the winery has accumulated a steady stream of awards at both the national and international levels—they’re on display all over the tasting room—including nine medals from the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards.
A bit of background. Gray Monk is the translation of Grauer Mönch, a German synonym for Pinot Gris. The winery has a sizable portfolio of vinifera varietals, after they pulled out their initial plantings of the old French hybrids. (It’s what everyone was growing in B.C. in those days.) My favourites number too many to list in total, but they would have to include the unique Rotberger (say it rote-burger), Odyssey Brut Rosé, Pinot Gris, some stunning vintages of Riesling, and the luscious Odyssey White Meritage, which only a handful of B.C. wineries essay.
Let’s get on to some major drinking and eating. That was some celebratory dinner a group of us shared at the winery’s well-established and popular Grapevine Restaurant not long ago. While the founding principals were off cruising the Danube to celebrate the 50 part of their tri-anniversary, son Steven poured a half-dozen reception wines on the deck overlooking the lake at sunset—what could be a better setting? Then the chefs, executive restaurant chef Rene Haudenschild and executive winery chef Willi Franz, prepared a wine-matching dinner that was second to none.
These were the reception wines: Odyssey White Brut 2009, Odyssey Rosé Brut 2008, Latitude 50 White 2010, Estate Gewürztraminer 2010, Estate Pinot Auxerrois 2010 (Gray Monk is one of only a few wineries in our neck of the woods working with this fine grape, the other being Gehringer Brothers), and Estate Merlot 2009.
Food and drink, then. To start, some Digby scallops and Okanagan asparagus salad served with calamondin balsam carrot foam. Knew nothing about calamondin; found out through the great Google that it’s a type of dwarf orange tree. When mixed with carrots and balsam, it was certainly a treat, especially accompanied by the 2011 Estate Pinot Gris.
On to the entrée, which was free-range butter-poached chicken stuffed with roasted pine nuts, alongside morel mushroom ragout and blackberry onion marmalade, as well as mousseline potatoes and fresh vegetables. The wines were one in each colour: the 2010 Estate Unwooded Chardonnay and the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir.
Dessert offered the opportunity to sample two sweet wines—Odyssey III and Reflection, a semi-fortified Muscat that Steven was fishing for input on. I thought it could be a little thicker and a touch sweeter, but both stood the chocolate raspberry mousse and citrus crème brûlée in good stead.
All in all a grand dinner, and much groaning (of the positive kind) ensued on the bus ride back to the hotel.
A batch of Gray Monk tasting notes will follow in a column sometime in July, if not earlier.
Oh, all right: just one for now, mostly because I saw it in a store a few weeks ago and picked it up for dinner, since it has a habit of disappearing fast. Gray Monk Rotberger 2010 ($15.99) is a specialty listing, but it’s available in many LDB stores. It’s a unique grape variety, making a unique wine. Pink in colour and with a coppery edge, it’s not a rosé but a distinct variety; it’s the colour it is because that’s the colour of the grape—a neon-ish bright pink.
Gray Monk believes it has the only plantings of it in North America; since it was first released as a varietal, the wine has enjoyed huge popularity and routinely sells out before summer really hits. That’s probably a function of the fact that it’s hearty, with big, bright, fresh, slightly tart fruit. Unlike some rosé or blush wines, there’s nothing wimpy about this wine. One of the best summertime food wines you can get in B.C., it will make you an instant believer, if you aren’t already.
Next week, still more rosés. They just keep on coming, so someone (besides me) must be drinking them.