Gray Monk Estate is an Award-Winning Canadian Winery

When you walk into Gray Monk, the first thing you see is the HUGE award wall. This picture doesn’t even do it justice, it wraps all the way around the circular entryway. The three staff members were all jolly and greeted each person as they entered opening the way for questions and comfort for those who may be a little wine hesitant. Like the staff, the winery is warm and inviting. Dimly light with warm tones. It is the winter season, so there are only about 30 guests as opposed to the throngs of thousands that grace the building in the summer.

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The Wall of Awards at Gras Monk. Image Source: Shira Kogut


Gray Monk: A popular winery to tour in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

This is one of the more popular wineries in the Okanagan Valley Wine region and it is easy to see why. The Heiss family not only offers free tastings, but a complimentary 40-minute winery tour. A gracious tip of the hat to the wine enthusiasts who come and a smart way to get first-timers to bond with the brand. There is nothing that sells better than a fabulous story.

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Winter in the Vineyard at Gray Monk. Image Source: Shira Kogut

In 1972, George and Trudy Heiss moved to the Okanagan to start a winery. Previously, they were hairdressers in Edmonton, Alberta (they met at a hairdressers’ convention). Being from Germany, George realized the similarities between Germany and the Okanagan. The fact that they are both on the 50th parallel created a similar climate, so logically German varietals would be their hallmark. They began to produce beautiful German white varieties like Riesling, Gewurztraminer and other lesser known German whites like Ehrenfelser, Kerner, and Siegerrebe.

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The Story Behind the Name Gray Monk. Image Source: Shira Kogut


The Grape behind the name Gray Monk: Grauer Monch, Austrian Pinot Gris

In 1976, George Heiss or aptly nicknamed “the Godfather of Pinot Gris” decided to bring the grape to Canada. It quickly became their flagship wine and one of the regions more popular varietals. When they began to brainstorm for names for their winery Trudy who is of Austrian background thought the Austrian name for Pinot Gris, Grauer Monch, would be perfect. And so, Gray Monk began.

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View of Lake Okanagan. Image by: Just Wine


It pays to be open-minded about trying new wine varietals while on a wine tour

I had some time to spare before the tour, so I decided to do my tasting first. I had every intention of leaving there with their Pinot Gris, but by the end of my tasting, I opted for two other award winners their href Rotberger and their Pinot Noir. Andrea, my tasting guide and later the tour guide was patient and knowledgeable. She answered all of my questions about the unusual varietals, about the winery and offered small anecdotes about the family which made the visit all the more personal. At tastings, especially at the winery itself, I remain open to all suggestions because after all, they are the experts. My open-mindedness was rewarded with a delicious wine varietal that I had never tried.

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Rotberger Wine at Gray Monk. Image Source: Shira Kogut


What is Rotberger? (Not to be confused with Rotburger)

Rotberger is a red varietal that is thought to be a cross between Riesling and Trollinger. Note that this is Rotberger with an e not Rotburger which is another name for the varietal Zweigelt. Rotberger only grows in four countries: Austria, Canada, Germany, and Liechtenstein. Beyond its limited production, it is also unique because the skins take a lot longer than most red grapes to impart colour. It sits on the skins for 2 days, getting a better flavour without getting too dark. The winemaker keeps an eye on the colour using a tube at the side of each vat.

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Touring Gray Monk Estate Winery. Image Source: Shira Kogut


Keeping the cost of production down at Gray Monk Estate Winery

As one of the bigger wineries in the area, Gray Monk has 700 barrels of wine ageing at any one time. All Gray Monk wines except the sparklings have screwcaps. It is an industry fallacy that only cheap wines come with screwcaps, but more and more wineries are doing it these days. Firstly, its easier to open no messy oops the cork fell in the bottle or broke moments. For those who feel that wine is a little less romantic without the signature pop, there is apparently a trick to open the screwcap with your arm which George has perfected that can make opening a screwcap a little “more sexy.” I leave that to your imagination. Second, the material for real cork is becoming more scarce and therefore more expensive, so by using screwcaps they can bring down the price point on their wines. You still enjoy the same great high-quality product, but you aren’t paying extra for a cork. Lastly, wines with corks must be cellared laying down, so that the wine touches the cork and the wine does not get oxidized, but screwcaps can be stored standing or laying down which makes them easier to cellar. So how do you know that the quality is still there even though their wines have screwcaps? The Heisses were one of the main advocates for the Canadian VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance), a group which Canadian wineries can join that sets regulations similar to DOCG or DOC in Italy, the AOC in France or the AVA in the US.

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A cold day overlooking Lake Okanagan, BC. Image by: Just Wine


Purchased by Canadian company, Andrew Peller Wines, but still Heiss family operated

Gray Monk is one of the five original wineries that gave the region its wine start and while the winery is now owned by Andrew Peller Industries, the 3rd generation of the Heiss family is still in charge of the day to day operations. Their Odyssey 3 Port is a tribute to the family’s journey and generations that have worked there.


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Odyssey III Fortified Wine. Image Source: Just Wine


This winery is a definite must for any wine tasting trip to the region. It reminds the visitor of exactly what wine should be warm, welcoming and wonderful.


Now that you’ve read about this tour of Gray Monk Estate Winery, it’s time to read more about touring wineries: