Herodotus "Dan" Damianos, a child of Greek immigrants who overcame an impoverished childhood in Hell's Kitchen to start Pindar, one of Long Island's largest and oldest vineyards, has died.
Damianos died Monday of pulmonary fibrosis at his home in Head of the Harbor, with his wife, Barbara, by his side, said Kathryn Krejci, CEO of Pindar Vineyards, which Damiano started in 1980. He was 82.
Damianos, a doctor of internal medicine -- known as Dr. Dan -- stumbled upon grapes in his Head of the Harbor backyard when he started his practice in 1966. Later, he bought potato farmland in Peconic, starting the vineyard. He marketed his wines, led tours and opened his tasting rooms -- where he was a fixture -- to the public, drawing them in droves to the North Fork.
"The passing of Dr. Dan leaves a void in the Long Island wine community. He was such a force," said Louisa Thomas Hargrave, a wine pioneer and columnist who co-founded Hargrave Vineyard with her husband in 1973. "He was absolutely fervent about how great Long Island was for wine."
The 500-acre vineyard run by Damianos' three sons and one of his two daughters, became Long Island's most widely distributed wine brand.
He named one son and the vineyard Pindar, the ancient Greek poet, she said.
His death is another blow to the local wine industry. In July, Marco Borghese died in a car crash less than two weeks after his wife, Ann Marie, died of cancer. In 1999, the couple bought the region's first vineyard from the Hargraves and renamed it Castello di Borghese.
Damianos and three siblings were raised in a two-bedroom apartment, eating a Spartan diet of lentil beans -- chicken and potatoes once a week, if lucky -- during the Great Depression, said son Alexander, Pindar's general manager.
Damianos earned a teaching degree from SUNY Plattsburgh and a master's in psychology and philosophy from New York University while working as a teacher. At age 24, he became the youngest principal in the city's schools, his son said. He served in the Korean War.
He learned Italian and went to medical school at the University of Bologna in Italy.
He ran his practice and worked at the vineyard until dedicating himself to winemaking in 1996 at age 62.
"It's like the end of an era; they just don't make old-world gentlemen like him," Krejci said. "He could outwork anybody."
Ron Goerler, past president of the Long Island Wine Council and owner of Jamesport Vineyards, called Damiano a "founder of the industry."
"Like my dad [Ronald Goerler Sr.,], Dr. Dan was one of the original people who came out here in the beginning. He saw something," Goerler said.
Damianos was an advocate for Long Island wines, even lobbying Congress, his son said.
"He was everybody's confidant and friend," his son said.
Besides his wife, he is survived by sons Alexander, Jason and Pindar; daughters Alethea Damianos Conroy and Eurydice; and four grandchildren.
A wake will be at Branch Funeral Home, 551 New York 25A, Miller Place, on Monday and Tuesday, 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. The funeral will be private.