Sunday, November 20, 2016

Remembering grapegrower Den Dulik

Photo: Den Dulik in the vineyard where he spent a lifetime

The recent obituary of Daniel (Den) Dulik, a legendary Kelowna grow grower, was surprisingly understated.
He always struck me as a strong and genuine personality. His life needs to be fleshed out and I will try to do that by reproducing what I wrote about Den in my 1996 book, The British Columbia Wine Companion. For greater perspective on that life, I include the entries on his father, Martin, and on his daughter, Susan.

First, here is an excerpt from the brief obituary:
“DULIK, Daniel Martin (Denny): Passed away peacefully after a prolonged battle with cancer on November 17, 2016 at the age of 77. Survived by his loving wife Pat of 54 years; daughter Susan Dulik of Kelowna; son Robert (Nicole) Dulik of Calgary; grandsons Mark and Jake; sisters: Doris (Henry) Johnson and Diane (Earl) Fabian both of Kelowna; numerous nieces, nephews as well as many, many dear friends. Born and raised in Kelowna, Denny lived his entire life on the family vineyard, Pioneer Vineyards. He was a pioneer of the BC wine and grape industry. His lifelong quest to grow the best grapes and to produce the best wines possible will succeed him for future generations. He will be dearly missed.”
An appreciation by Tantalus Vineyards, which bought the vineyard in 2004, adds more to the portrait:
Den or Denny, as he was known to friends and family, will be dearly remembered for his incredible sense of humour, warm heart and unbelievable work ethic.
Den was an absolute pioneer for the BC wine industry - having owned and operated Pioneer Vineyards in South East Kelowna for several decades. He established some of the earliest vinifera in Canada on our site, planting Riesling sourced from the Weis family of Mosel's St. Urbans-Hof winery back in 1978.
We at Tantalus credit Den, his wife Pat and daughter Sue with much of our success. From tying vines in the spring, to tasting ferments with our winemaking team, to spending hours on the tractor mowing rows - Den was integral to our operations and his wealth of farming knowledge has enriched our practices.
Although Den didn't feel up to harvesting grapes with us this year, he still popped by daily on his John Deere, cracking jokes and keeping our picking team's morale up. Anyone who crossed paths with him was touched by his sharp wit, infectious smile and caring heart.
Here are the excerpts from my book (which is out of print):

Dulik, Daniel (Den) (1939-):  Born in Kelowna, Dulik learned the art of grape growing from his father, Martin, gradually taking over the operation of the Pioneer Vineyard at the very end of Hughes Road, east of Kelowna. The amiable, barrel-shaped Dulik is one of the few growers who made the jump from labrusca grapes to vinifera without a significant stop with the hybrids. The first of the vineyards planted by J.W. Hughes, Pioneer was given over entirely to labrusca table grapes, many of which were sold to wineries for the fortified pop wines popular in the 1960s. With the exception of a small planting of marĂ©chal foch, Den Dulik declined to plant hybrids because he did not think those varieties were sufficiently better than his  labrusca. (After all, his vivacious wife Patricia, an accomplished home food processor, was able to win awards with her home-made white wines made from diamond grapes.) However, in 1978 Dulik -- and his even more skeptical father -- were persuaded by Jordan & Ste-Michelle winemaker Josef Zimmerman to plant white riesling. Zimmerman argued that, if the variety was hardy enough for German vineyards, it would also thrive in Kelowna. The clay-loam vineyard, because of its southwesterly slope, is one of the warmer sites among the vineyards east of Kelowna. The Duliks planted five acres and, over the next decades, learned that Zimmerman was right. At the first industry-wide competition in 1982 (at Septober), the winery won a gold medal for a 1981 riesling special reserve made from Dulik grapes. Pioneer Vineyard, now with twenty-nine acres under vine, also includes bacchus and optima (also Zimmerman recommendations), pinot noir, pinot blanc, chardonnay and pinot meunier. "I'm happy with them all," Dulik says.

Dulik, Martin (1907-1987):  Born in Czechoslovakia, Dulik came to Canada when he was fifteen and, after a decade in Saskatchewan, he and his new bride came to the Okanagan, looking for work. In 1934 Dulik was hired by J.W. Hughes to work on the Pioneer Vineyard just southeast of Kelowna and ultimately became a foreman. In 1944, when Hughes began selling the vineyards to his foreman, Dulik agreed to buy the Pioneer Vineyard. The terms (which were extended to other foremen as well) were unusual but then neither Dulik nor the others had ready cash. Dulik acquired the vineyard over seven years by paying the income tax on the crop and giving Hughes the proceeds from half the crop.[1] Grapes were sold both to the fresh market and to Growers' Wines in Victoria, with the wine grape market becoming the major market with the expansion of wineries in the 1960s. Dulik also was one of the leaders in the 1961 formation of the Grape Growers' Association.
Sulik, Susan (1962-): Born in Kelowna into one of the pioneer grape-growing families, Susan Dulik was drawn irresistibly to the wine industry by the infectious enthusiasm of the winemakers who continually visited the family's Pioneer Vineyard. When she asked for work at Jordan & Ste-Michelle, the winery to which her family then sold grapes, she was offered a tour guide's post in 1980 at the Ste-Michelle winery in Surrey. "I just had a ball," she recalls. After three years, she was promoted to sales and administration work and stayed with the winery until it closed in 1990, took a year's sabbatical and then came back to the industry, first working with CedarCreek and then with Summerhill.

"I decided I wanted to open my own winery," she said. Winemaker Eric von Krosigk, her mentor at Summerhill, instilled the belief that good wine begins with good grapes. Susan Dulik had not been a great student of viticulture before but she joined her family at Pioneer Vineyards in 1992 and was surprised that she enjoyed vineyard work. She soon began making trial batches of wine in preparation for the farmgate winery planned to open in 1997 under the name, Pinot Reach Cellars. Susan Dulik's wines are clean and fresh, the result of a minimalist style of winemaking that dictates interfering with the wines as little as possible. "I just leave them alone -- keeping them incredibly clean but letting the wines be," she says.


When I interviewed Susan and her parents just before Pinot Reach opened, she explained the rationale for the name: the winery would focus on Pinot varieties and it would reach for quality. 

Ironically, the first Pinot Reach wine to attract international praise (from Jancis Robinson, no less) was the Old Vines Riesling from that her father’s 1978 planting.

The winery was renamed Tantalus after Vancouver investment dealer Eric Savics bought the Pioneer Vineyard. It continues to make Old Vines Riesling, and the wine still gets plaudits from Robinson and other wine writers. It is arguably the best Riesling in the Okanagan.

When those vines were originally planted, Den is said to have christened a few with wine from a bottle of St. Urbans-Hof Riesling. Now, someone should pour a bottle of Old Vines Riesling on Den’s grave.

[1]  Ruth Saari: Forty-One Years on the Pioneer Vineyard:  Forty-fifth Report of the Okanagan Historical Society, pp. 112-116.

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