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Wine Pioneer 'Dr. Dan' Dies on Long Island

Dr. Herodotus Damianos founded Pindar Vineyards and Duck Walk Vineyards

by Linda Jones McKee
Dr. Herodotus "Dan" Damianos
Riverhead, N.Y.—Herodotus Damianos, known in the wine industry as Dr. Dan, passed away Aug. 18 after a long illness. A pioneer in grapegrowing and winemaking on Long Island, he purchased 30 acres of land on the North Fork in 1979; the following year he planted Chardonnay vines and founded Pindar Vineyards. While he continued his medical career as an internist, he added acreage to his vineyard and promoted the winery. By the late 1980s, the quality of Pindar wines was established, and his wines were served at the inauguration of U.S. President George H.W. Bush.

In 1994 Damianos expanded, opening Duck Walk Vineyards in Southampton on the South Fork of Long Island with his son Alexander. Today, Pindar Vineyards has 450 acres of vineyard with 17 varieties of grapes and, with a production of 70,000 cases of wine per year, Pindar is the largest winery on Long Island. Duck Walk encompasses 140 acres, produces approximately 35,000 cases and now has a tasting room on the North Fork as well as at the original winery.

Scott Osborn, owner with his wife Ruth of Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan, N.Y., was general manager at Pindar Vineyards from 1989 to 1991. He told Wines & Vines that working for Damianos was the best job he ever had. “I learned a lot about people, how to work with people and treat people in a tasting room—Dr. Dan understood that better than anyone,” Osborn commented. “When I started at Pindar in 1989, he had over 100 acres of grapes and was doing a good business. 100,000 people were going through the tasting room each year. In the early 1990s, there were only eight wineries on Long Island, no great restaurants and few bed and breakfasts. Now there are high-quality restaurants with nationally recognized chefs and tons of B&Bs—all thanks to Dr. Dan bringing wine to the North Fork.

“He was instrumental in creating a large tourist market out there. Pindar gave tours and made a wide range of wines to suit every palate. He was the first to do that—he wanted to create new wine drinkers. Many people who are now drinking Meritage and other high-end wines started out with Summer Blush and Winter White at Pindar.” Osborn also noted that the success of Pindar helped to change the character of the eastern end of Long Island. “He saved farmland in the region by planting vineyards; without the wine industry, that land might have been golf courses.”

Damianos was active in many other ways in the wine industry. He served on the Long Island Wine Council and as a member of WineAmerica’s board. During the early 1990s he was a board member of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. According to Jim Trezise, president of the Foundation, “Dan Damianos was a true renaissance man—physician, winery owner, art lover, gifted speaker, entertaining raconteur, and irrepressible bon vivant. He created one of the early vineyards and wineries on Long Island, and quickly became the largest. Dr. Dan served on the Board of Directors of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation for years, making many contributions, and was the recipient in 1998 of our coveted Unity Award for his efforts to bring the industry together. We will all miss him.”

Damianos’ three sons are involved in the wine industry: Alexander is owner and general manager Duck Walk Vineyards; Jason is director of winemaking at Pindar and also has his own vineyard, Jason’s Vineyard; and Pindar is director of vineyard management at Pindar Vineyards. Damianos’ daughter Alethea Damianos Conroy is administrator in the business office and over-sees sales, tastings and special events. A second daughter, Eurydice Damianos, is a speech-language pathologist in New York City.

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