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Château cash flow


Burgeoning local wineries target Oklahoma palates and score big with sweet and semisweet wines.

Charles Martin May 11th, 2011

Wine shops and vineyards might be sprouting up all across the state, but Oklahoma remains a tricky place to make a living in the industry, as evidenced by the recent loss of Grape Ranch.

Credits: Woods & Waters Winery and Vineyard

The owners of the winery known for the Beat Texas line of wine came to peace with the Lone Star State enough to announce last fall they’d be uprooting from Okemah to resettle in Texas.

There are still plenty of ambitious winemakers willing to weather Oklahoma’s brutal ice storms and tangled blue laws. And they are finding the state can be fertile ground for wine sales, so as long as they cater to the sweet tooth.

“In the Oklahoma liquor stores, our top-selling wine is Oklahoma sweet, and in our tasting room, it is the raspberry white Zinfandel,” said Todd Willis, general manager of Tidal School Vineyards in Drumright. “Oklahoma tastes seem to go toward the sweeter wines, rather than the dry reds and dry whites. The raspberry white Zinfandel is a semisweet, and Oklahoma sweet is not the sweetest wine we have, but it is close, and it is a heart-healthy red wine.”

According to Willis, Tidal School’s production makes it the largest winemaker in the state, with 26 different wines ranging from sweet to dry and roughly 15,000 bottles shipping out in a year, not including the bottles sold on premises.

In Anadarko, Woods & Waters Winery and Vineyard’s Dale Pound said his is the largest vineyard in the state, with 20 acres on-site and an additional 12 acres under contract. The vineyards are positioned in the southwest portion of Oklahoma, where he believed that weather and precipitation would be optimal for growing the 11 varietals currently planted.

Pound plans on expanding the vineyards, but hasn’t decided how large Woods & Waters will ultimately become.

“Vineyards can get up to hundreds or thousands of acres,” he said. “The economic break point for a family-owned vineyard like ours is 40 acres. That’s from national data, and that is where we are headed. We’ll get to 40 acres and see where it goes from there. I don’t have a crystal ball, but we are growing.”

Distribution can become a larger issue as the vineyard expands.

Willis said that there are two options open for Oklahoma wineries, either self-distributing or using a wholesale distributor.

“The most efficient way to get the greatest amount of coverage with the least amount of capital expenditure is through a distributor,” Willis said. “Tidal School has been with Central (Liquor), Jarboe (Sales) and Action (Liquor) and has wine in over 260 liquor stores. To do that ourselves would have required a lot more overhead and personnel.”

Pound, on the other hand, chooses to self-distribute Woods & Waters wines.

“Our original business plan didn’t have us distributing at all; we were going to sell everything here, but last June we started selling to liquor stores because of the demands from our customers,” Pound said. “We have a lot of customers from Tulsa, Yukon, Oklahoma City and other areas that like our wines, but can only get down here once or twice a year.”

Pound isn’t ruling out using a distributor, but is waiting to see how demand builds. Like Tidal School, he said the fastest moving wines are those aimed for Oklahoma palates. But, he added, the market isn’t one-dimensional.

“We make 22 different wines, and sweet wines definitely make up the majority of what we sell,” he said. “We make dry wines like Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays, and they sell well. We may not sell as much as we do the sweet wines, but we already have California, New York and Texas wine drinkers that drink our dry wines all the time, and those wines do very well against high-end dry, California whites.”

 
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