Herodotus Damianos, a medical doctor, North Fork wine pioneer and the founder of Pindar Vineyards, Long Island’s biggest wine producer, died on Monday, according to a family spokesman. He was 82.
Born in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, “Dr. Dan” as he was affectionately called, moved to Stony Brook in 1966.
One of the driving forces behind the local wine industry’s early success, Dr. Damianos bought 30 acres of land in Peconic in 1979 and first planted grapes in 1980. Two years later, the vineyard sold its first vintage.
“I said to myself: I believe in this industry, and if you’re going to make an impact you have to have enough product,” he said, according to his bio posted on the Pindar website.
To ensure that success, Dr. Damianos began purchasing other parcels, eventually expanding the operation to more than 500 acres with 17 different grape varieties, including the Duck Walk Vineyards north and south fork locations.
Newsday reported last year that the vineyards and four wineries were on the selling block with an asking price of $65 million.
“The vines were young, we didn’t know what we were doing because we were unique,” he said, according to his bio. “It was a lot of heartache and a lot of mistakes.”
He enlisted the help of his five children. Today his son Jason is director of winemaking for Pindar and Duck Walk, and the owner of Jason’s Vineyard. His son Pindar is director of vineyard management at Pindar and a daughter, Alethea, is CFO. A third son, Alexander, is owner and general manager at Duck Walk Vineyards south. A second daughter, Eurydice, is a speech pathologist in New York City and is not professionally involved with the family business.
Dr. Damianos is also survived by his wife, Barbara and four grandchildren, Phaedra, Iliana, Evan and Andrew.
“He had a very early vision that Long Island wines should be accessible to everyone,” said Louisa Hargrave, who along with her then-husband Alex planted the first commercial Long Island vineyard in 1973. “He wanted to reach everyone with his own vision and his love of wine.”
Hargrave recalled Dr. Damianos as a family man who loved his clan and loved his work.
“He stood there pouring wine in his winery every single weekend,” she said. “He loved his family. He was out here every minute he could be. Not just running a business, but standing there interacting with people.”
Dr. Damianos continued to practice medicine until the mid-1990s, well into his career as a vintner, a family spokesperson said.
“I love medicine,” he says on the winery website, “but I also wanted to do something creative.”
Those in the wine industry who knew him said his presence will be missed.
“The sense of loss will extend well beyond the wine community,” the Long Island Wine Council said in a statement. “The size and scale of his wine operations meant that Pindar and Duck Walk became important forces in the local economy, accounting for hundreds of jobs and thousands of tourists to the North Fork every year. Dr. Damianos was a constant and very personable presence at his wineries and in the community.”
Other members of the wine community agreed.
“He was certainly a giant among many,” said Charles Massoud, founder of Paumanok Vineyards in Jamesport. “He did a lot for the business.”
Massoud recalled how the winery owners used to assemble once a month and informally discuss the state of the business. Damianos was a regular at these gatherings, which were a precursor to the Long Island Wine Council.
Massoud said he had recently suggested getting together like the group had done in the late 80s and 90s as having all the winery owners under one roof is now a rare occurrence.
“Unfortunately, we missed that opportunity,” Massoud said.
Damianos’ passing is the third loss of a Long Island wine industry pillar this summer. Ann Marie Borghese of Castello di Borghese died at the age of 53 on June 20 after a battle with cancer. Her husband Marco, 70, died in a car accident 10 days later.
“We’re missing a god in the panoply of Long Island wine gods,” Hargrave said.
A wake will be held at Branch Funeral Home on Route 25A in Miller Place on Monday, Aug. 25 and Tuesday, Aug. 26 from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in Dr. Damianos’ name be made to the following charities: Mather Hospital JTM Foundation, 75 North Country Road Port Jefferson, NY 11777; New York Presbyterian Pulmonary Fibrosis 1305 York Avenue, 4th Floor New York, NY 10021; or Good Shepherd Hospice 245 Old Country Road Melville, NY 11747