It’s a special year for the owners of Gray Monk Estate Winery.
Founders George and Trudy Heiss are celebrating a unique year of anniversaries as they look back on 55 years of marriage, 45 years of the vineyard and 35 years of the winery.
The duo said their success comes from years of hard work and getting along with each other. But their story doesn’t start with plucking grapes from a vine, it starts with hairdressing. George’s father and mother were both hairdressers, and when he moved from Austria he kept the family tradition. He also kept the taste for wine, sampling wines and beers from a young age.
“I grew up with wine on the table or beer. It was dependent on what my mother cooked,” he said.
Trudy is originally from East Germany, and she met George at a hair show in Edmonton. She was modelling for a hair company and was in the middle of turning her hair from red to blond.
“That’s when he saw me, I was in the orange stage,” she chuckled, recalling the in-between stage of her hair dye.
They married in 1962, and cut hair for a living, owning two salons in Edmonton. But they desired something more.
“George said he never wanted to be a grouchy old hairdresser,” said Trudy.
Eventually, Trudy’s father purchased property on what is now Gray Monk, which prompted them to move to the Okanagan. They started the vineyard in 1972, living in a shack on the property. Trudy remembers the cold breeze that would blow through the floorboards and around her legs.
They grew grapes for the commercial wineries and cut hair on the side to keep money coming in.
“We were a lot slimmer then because we worked harder,” said Trudy with a laugh.
Not everyone can work with their spouse, but the Heisses said their traits complement each other, in the beauty salon, on the farm, and in their business.
“I think we both realized what each other’s strengths are, and we let each other run with that strength. Even in the business, I don’t want any part of what she’s doing,” said George.
George handles the finances while Trudy is involved with advertising, staff and promotions. She also looks after the flowers in the summer. George teased that Trudy’s finger is permanently bent from sticking it in pots to test the soil.
“Our personal life is so intertwined with our business, we’ve never had an argument over personal reasons,” said Trudy. “We think very much alike. We just click. We have a good sense of humour, never lose your sense of humour. When things got tough we grew closer.”
The couple has three sons and one grandson, each son is currently working in the business. Gray Monk has made headlines in the newspapers for decades, winning awards and producing wine through hard economic times. But the Heiss’ did their homework and worked hard for their 75 acres of vineyards.
“People say ‘oh you know you’re so lucky’ but the harder we worked the luckier we got,” said Trudy.
Knowing what the consumer can afford is important too, said George. Even though the winery has won numerous awards, Trudy said her biggest award is her customers, who buy the wine with their hard-earned dollars.
The couple celebrated their 55th anniversary earlier this week.
To find out more about Gray Monk visit their website.