George Denka, South Carolina
George Denka uses his vast experience with wine as president of Shelton Vineyards and his vast experience in the outdoors when he's turkey hunting.
Hometown: Beaufort, S.C.
NWTF Member Since: 1973
Membership Level: Diamond Life
Family Members: George and wife Martha have two kids, Ansley and Alex, and two granddaughters, Hayden and Hollis.
Notable Fact: George lends his expertise as judge of the NWTF Decorative Call Competition.
NWTF: Which came first for you: the turkey or the grape?
George Denka: The grape. I became interested in wines while working as a waiter while attending the University of South Carolina in the late `60s. After several wine courses, I was offered a job as a wine steward in 1969. In 1974, I went to work for a South Carolina distributor as wine sales manager. Over the years I worked for that same company in several southeastern states prior to a merger. Ultimately, I was offered a position at Shelton Vineyards and the opportunity to be a part of establishing a brand new wine region in my beloved South -- Yadkin Valley in North Carolina.
I started turkey hunting on public land in South Carolina (central Piedmont) in 1972 after a friend spotted some turkeys in the area during duck season. There was very little information available about turkey hunting in those days, so we learned the hard way, by trial and error. My first call was a Lynch Jet Slate, and after a couple of years trying I actually got lucky and bagged a gobbler. Fortunately, my turkey hunting skills have improved since those early days.
NWTF: What do you love about the winemaking process?
GD: I like the farming aspect, of growing a crop and watching the fruit develop from bud break to harvest. Most consumers never fully make the connection to farming when purchasing wine. I am not a winemaker but work closely with our winemaker and owners with regard to wine types and styles we produce. I enjoy the blending trial tastings when we compare different blends to determine the final makeup of our wines for each vintage.
NWTF: What is your role at Shelton Vineyards? Tell us about a day on the job.
GD: My job as president of the winery is to work with each department (vineyard, production, sales, finance and wine club) and direct their activities to ensure the owners' (Charlie and Ed Shelton) policies and goals are carried out and achieved. Every day is different but each day usually involves meeting with our vineyard manager to discuss the day's work schedule; meeting with the owners and our controller to discuss sales, budgets and potential sales strategies; meeting with our winemaker to discuss the development of wine in our aging cellars and bottling schedules; working with our retail manager to ensure that our tasting room is ready to receive guests. I work closely with our distributors to ensure that sales programs are in place and fully implemented. I also visit with VIP visitors to the winery on a regular basis.
We are fortunate to have assembled a very talented team of conscientious employees who are extremely competent.
NWTF: How did the NWTF and Shelton Vineyards come to form a partnership?
GD: For many years I have worked on banquet committees across the Southeast and have worked closely with Danny Young, NWTF vice president of marketing. I have made personal donations of wine and spirits packages for silent and live auctions. Many of the companies I have worked for also have made donations to many of the events.
Several years ago Danny and I discussed the possibility of doing a private label for the NWTF. The idea came to fruition in 2008 with the NWTF's Wild Game Collection of wines.
NWTF: Tell us specifically about the involvement of Shelton Vineyards with the NWTF?
GD: Our organization donates a couple of large format bottles to banquets each year, and I am usually able to use my connections in the industry to acquire several other large format bottles to make a "Liquid Assets" Package that is offered at the national convention.
We also partner with the Surry Longspurs and Yadkin Valley Wheelin' Sportsmen to hold what I believe is the best Wheelin' Sportsmen Catfish Roundup event in the country. We have a stocked pond on the grounds surrounded by a paved walking path that makes the entire area very accessible. We try to have a lot of different activities during the day, such as therapeutic horseback riding, archery, air rifles and crafts, in addition to the fishing. All we do is provide the venue; the local volunteers are really the ones who make this event special. It is always very well attended and we attract participants from the entire region, not just our area. The past two years [former Wheelin' Sportsmen spokesman] Dana Bowman skydived into the vineyard to the delight of the participants. We also have hosted several JAKES events over the years.
NWTF: Do you ever see turkeys in the vineyards? If so, do you hunt them?
GD: In the eight years I have worked at the vineyards I have only seen one turkey on the Shelton Estate. I hunt turkeys about five miles from the vineyard but not in the vineyard itself. Surry County is a game-rich part of North Carolina, where hunting is prevalent.
NWTF: We hear you're quite the call collector. Tell us about your collection and which call are you most proud of.
GD: My wife, Martha, and I started collecting turkey calls after attending a Howard Harlan/Earl Mickel seminar at the NWTF national convention in Charlotte, N.C., in the late 1990s. I couldn't believe what some of the calls I was hunting with were worth. So I immediately retired my Neil Cost box and my original wood Harold Knight tube call. Since then I have collected hundreds of calls from a large number of call makers.
I am proud of every call, but the most rare and interesting call I own is a glue-toned Neil Cost Boatpaddle that he personally presented to me on a hunt with Neil, Steve Mann and Earl Mickel at Mays Ferry Hunt Club on the Edisto River. I actually called in and took a gobbler with that call the next day with Neil still in camp.
I have had the honor and privilege to hunt with many call makers over the years and find them all to be salt of the earth individuals who care deeply about conservation and our hunting heritage.
NWTF: There's rumor of a book in the works. Is that true?
GD: I had hoped to have it finished two years ago but lost the original manuscript when my computer hard drive crashed and had to start over. I am putting the final touches on the manuscript now and hope to release the book in 2010. It is a book on after-market turkey call values based on Internet and private sales of calls. It also has a section on books about everything turkey, and a section with bios of call makers not previously featured in any of Earl Mickel's books. Prior to his death, Earl and his wife, Janene, encouraged me to include this section and put me in touch with several of the call makers.
NWTF: When did you join the NWTF? What got you involved?
GD: I originally joined the NWTF in 1973 in order to learn more about the habits of the wild turkey and how to hunt them. Over the years, I have been involved with chapters in four different states: both Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia.
NWTF: What do you like most about the NWTF?
GD: The NWTF's mission and the people involved. The NWTF has some of the most dedicated staff and grassroots volunteers that I have ever met in any organization. I believe that the NWTF and similar conservation groups in this country are critical to the future of hunting and the shooting sports.
NWTF: What is your fondest NWTF memory?
GD: Probably the first Wheelin' Sportsmen event held at Shelton Vineyards. The smiles and the level of pure joy and gratitude expressed by the participants were priceless and truly warmed all of the volunteers' hearts -- and brought many to tears.
NWTF: We have to ask. In your opinion, what's the best wine pairing for wild turkey meat?
GD: No question about it. Wild Game Riesling is the classic pairing.