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You’re doin’ vine, Oklahoma

State vineyards are proving that their grapes have what it takes to produce quality wine.

Greg Horton October 17th, 2012

Oklahomans are largely unaware of how big the wine business has become, but that’s something the Oklahoma Grape Industry Council (OGIC) wants to change.

Currently, Oklahoma wineries account for nearly $100 million in economic impact annually. As of 2010, there were 51 licensed wineries and 139 grape-growers in the state. The industry provided 840 jobs for Oklahomans. The numbers come from a survey by California-based Frank, Rimerman + Co.

“Ninety to 95 percent of all Oklahoma wines are sold in tasting rooms or at festivals and events,” said Jill Stichler, OGIC’s treasurer.

The group commissioned the survey to assess the state of the industry. Based on the findings, OGIC members have targeted three areas for improvement: marketing, legislation and education. The latter is focused on teaching people how to grow quality grapes.

“You can’t make good wine from crappy grapes,” said Stichler, who owns Willow Pond Vineyard in Lexington. “We encourage people who are interested to get educated at an accredited institution like Redlands Community College or Oklahoma State University.”

Stichler said a lack of education has hurt the state’s wine industry.

“We try to educate people about varietals, trellising, pruning, pest control and all the things they need to know to succeed,” she said. “You can’t plant varietals no one wants to buy.”

Winning wines

OGIC is working to correct problems and market good wines. Using California fruit to make “Oklahoma” wine is not its focus. Its main task is improving local products made with Oklahoma grapes.

Gene Clifton, president of OGIC, is the owner and winemaker at Canadian River Winery in Lexington. His Muscat Canelli, a full-bodied, semi-sweet white, is an example of good Oklahoma wine. It is available at Byron’s, 2322 N. Broadway Ave.; Pancho’s, 6801 N. Meridian; and Joe’s Place, 1330 Alameda, Norman.

Oklahoma seems to do better with whites than reds so far. Summerside Vineyards in Vinita is producing some of the state’s best white wines. Varietally correct and well-balanced, it has won multiple awards, including a gold medal at the 2010 Oklahoma State Fair.

Its Riesling is particularly impressive.

The winery makes a dry and a sweet Riesling, both of which showcase crisp fruit flavors and food-friendly acid.

Summerside wines are available at The Wine Gallery, 12000 S. Western; Sam’s Warehouse Liquor, 2933 N.W. 63rd; and Fenwick Liquor, 16712 N. Penn, Edmond.

Dale Pound has been making wines outside of Anadarko since 1998. His Woods & Waters Winery produces some of the best noble grape reds in the state. When other wineries were producing flawed Merlot and Cabernet early on, his wines showed restraint, balance and varietal correctness.

For several years, Pound only sold his wines out of his tasting room. Now he works with the state’s wholesalers, which means his product is available throughout the state.

The new Woods & Waters 2009 Malbec is sold out at the tasting room, but might still be available at retail locations. Like his other Bordeaux varietals, the Malbec is an excellent example of what Oklahoma’s climate can do for Bordeaux grapes, including Cabernet and Merlot.

His wines are available at Sam’s Warehouse Liquor, Joe’s Place in Norman and Quicker Liquor at 9109 S. May.

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