OkieWineGirl

A Wine Drinker Rambling about Wine

Category: Oklahoma Wineries

Wines of the West Festival – Stockyard City

If you’ve ever wondered what cowboys do between rodeos and cattle round-ups, then next June strap on your spurs and head to the west side of Oklahoma City to Stockyard City. There’s more than steers and Stetsons in this historic part of town. For the past 8 years, the Stockyard has hosted the Wines of the West Festival where 15-20 Oklahoma wineries gather each year in the old Mercantile building to pour their wine. It’s a great opportunity to sample the Oklahoma wine scene and enjoy a step back into the Old West.

Riding into town at high noon and we ambled over to the Cattlemen’s event center at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse to check in and pick up our wrist bands. The majority of the wineries had set up shop in the old Stockyard Mercantile with a few others located in the Granville Music School and the Rodeo Opry. After getting a couple of glasses from the Saloon keeper, we wasted no time burning the breeze to the Mercantile. A lively crowd was gathered around the twelve watering holes dispersing fire-water while a future Garth Brooks strummed a 6-string and sang. 

We did a quick two-step around the room and then jumped into the shortest line. Most winery lines moved faster than molasses but with the spirits flowing, everyone was in good spirits. 

I’d hoped to chew the fat with a few of the winemakers but between the music and the crowd it proved to be harder than uncorking a bronc. I gave up and settled down to enjoying the wine and western atmosphere. Y’all, despite living in Oklahoma with ranchers, farmers, country music, western ambiance, and loads of pick-up trucks, must of us OKC locals are just good old suburbanites. Or at least we’re a hybrid of cowboy suburbanite. Either way, I see more ball caps behind the wheels of the F-150s flying by me on I-35 than cowboy hats. So an afternoon of soaking in a bit of western heritage was really refreshing.

 

 

After saying howdy to each winery at the Merc, we wondered over to the last two tasting spots while admiring the western haberdashery along the way.

Our last stop was at the Rodeo Opry building and the wines of Water’s Edge Winery. The line was thankfully small cause by then we were tuckered out. Water’s Edge Winery was pouring a watermelon wine that reminded me of that first cool, sweet bite of melon on a hot summer day. 

The regular Rodeo Opry band was setting up in the auditorium for the evening show so we took advantage of the opportunity to sit and relax. Apparently, Rodeo Opry has a variety show on Saturday nights with everything from country western to blues. Loads of local talent. The auditorium is small and well laid out so there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Overall, the afternoon was really enjoyable so I think we’ll be coming back for a bit more western culture in the future! Until next time friends, Happy Trails!

On the Oklahoma Wine Trail: Route 66 & Cabernet Sauvignon

Summer break is almost upon us! How do I know? This is the last week of school, my kids are freaking out over finals and the air conditioner just clicked on for the third time this hour despite the interspersed chilly days of rain and tornadoes.  Anyway, I’ve started planning a few mini-road trips and hope to get to a couple Oklahoma wineries before school starts again in August. Ya, I know, it’s only May but I guarantee we’ll both wake up in July in a week or two and pre-school activities will be on the horizon!

Oklahoma Wine Trail

I know I’ve mentioned my home state’s love affair with sweet wine. However, there appears to be a steady growth in the production of good red blends, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Merlots among Oklahoma vineyards that’s simultaneously gaining appreciation among Oklahoma wine drinkers. Make good wine, they will come. Even the number of licensed wineries has multiplied since the mid-90s from 4 to over 60 with a handful located along the historic Mother Road – Route 66, which can make for a very pleasant road trip. 

We had the opportunity to taste two Oklahoma Cabernet Sauvignons a few weeks ago while in the middle of a very successful DIY project; successful because it only required two additional trips to Lowes. The first one we tried was while strolling through our town’s annual Arts Festival. The evening was calm and comfortable, crowned with a clear twilight sky. A couple Oklahoma wineries had tasting booths where you could buy a ‘Large Taste’ to enjoy alongside the art appreciation. It cracks me up that the ‘taste’ was really a big glass but the law requires creative semantics. Anyway, we sampled several wines from Sparks Vineyard and Winery located in southeastern Oklahoma and decided their Cabernet Sauvignon was worth bringing home.  

Yup. The bottle’s empty. We drank it.

The second Cabernet Sauvignon we picked up was from a vineyard closer to us, Clauren Ridge Vineyard. The challenge of wiring in a new kitchen light can produce great thirst as well as anxiety, so we took a break and enjoyed the sunshine and wine on CRV’s lovely porch. It made for a good comparison between the two wines. Clauren Ridge is nice but Sparks resembled more of a traditional Cabernet with pronounced bold fruit and tannin. However, both contained a certain native flavor on the finish. 

Here’s the thing. If you’ve tasted an Oklahoma Cabernet, you’ll notice immediately a certain something consistent with all of them. A particular aroma/flavor I like to refer to as the Oklahoma ‘umami’. Regardless of the vineyard, this ‘umami’ seems to show up in almost every bottle. I think it’s born from the windy, heat kissed red clay terroir of these Great Plains. So, this summer if you get a chance to visit our panhandled patch of red earth, make a point to visit a winery and try it. 

The Historic Mother Road

Last weekend, while a few of our teens played Commencement and our college kid took her first road trip sans parents to Texas, we explored Route 66 between Oklahoma City and Stroud. The main reason; there’s a winery tucked in among the historic attractions and, of course, Pops with its nearly 700 sodas. Our youngest daughter got stuck with us for the afternoon so we bribed her with the promise she could drink herself into a sugar-induced coma.

Pops is a diner and gas station with two main attractions: a gigantic roadside soda bottle and 700 sodas.

It’s lights up at night!

Soda flavors range in everything from Chocolate Covered Maple Smoked Bacon (It really does taste like chocolate bacon), buffalo wings, peanut butter & jelly to jalapeno. Their monikers are just as interesting with the likes of Deadworld Zeek Cocktail Cotton Candy, Rowdy Roddy Piper Bubble Gum, Avery Bug Barf and Gross Gus’s Bloody Nose. I think Gus’s  is actually cherry but I don’t have the courage to try it. And for the coffee lover there’s a soda called Martian Poop. Yum. Overall, a worthwhile stop with or without kids. 

Sugar coma complete, we headed up the mother road toward Stroud and Stable Ridge Vineyards which sits a mile off Route 66 in a relocated Catholic Church. The vineyard and winery were actually started from the result of two separate tornado events. Moral of the story: if a tornado wipes out your house, plant a vineyard. 

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It’s friendly tasting room is located in the town’s original Catholic Church.

Stable Ridge Vineyards has a variety of wines to sample. Their most popular and award-winning is Jeremiah Red, a dessert wine made from a blend of full-bodied reds and blackberries. However, the owner/winemaker has an affinity for growing Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is hard to impossible to grow in Oklahoma but the winemaker enjoys the challenge. The owners have recently planted more of the vines to try and replace dwindling growth. 

In the end, we left with a semi-sweet white wine made of Riesling and natural lemon flavoring named Soleil which was a refreshing compliment to the humid evening. It’s basically wine lemonade and pairs very well with summer. 

At the beginning of June, I’ll have another opportunity to compare more Cabernet when a majority of Oklahoma vineyards and wineries gather for Wines of the West in historic Stockyard City. You’re welcome to join me. Just shine up your cowboy boots and ride into town on June 3rd. 

WhirlWind Winery in Watonga, Oklahoma

Have you ever stumbled upon a ghost town?  A lonely Main street dressed in decaying storefronts and dilapidated buildings. Empty east to west as far as the eye can see? Which seems as far as Texas when you’re in the western plains of Oklahoma. I stumbled upon one over the weekend. With one exception. In the center of the barren avenue, between practically the only other businesses left open, an antique store on one side and a live theater on the other, was a tiny working winery and tasting room pioneered by a gregarious winemaker. 

Whirlwind Winery

 

Whirlwind Winery in Watonga was founded by winemaker Brad Stinson of Fay, Oklahoma ten years ago. As we stepped through the door, we were taken in immediately by Brad’s welcoming nature, the cozy tasting room and the scent of fermenting wine from a ginormous wine spill. It’s also a working winery so wine accidents happen! 

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Brad getting the heavenly goat cheese.

Brad getting the heavenly goat cheese.

The place was quiet for a Saturday which I thought was a wonderful advantage. My husband and I immediately moved in and made it our home away from home. Brad didn’t seem to mind. He pointed to a table he’d prepared for us and then poured us an almost full glass of his Sweet Fay Rosé which he’d paired with probably the best goat cheese I’ve ever tasted from Middle Mountain Dairy in Clayton,Oklahoma. The rosé was blushing pink and tasted of slightly sweet fruit. I was tempted to finish it off but that would have been the end of the tasting for me. Did I mention the glass was generously poured? And so were the next four that followed! Brad definitely makes you feel like a friend just popping in for an afternoon chat. As he plied us with wine we peppered him with questions. How did he wind up a winemaker in Oklahoma? After traveling the world with a cruise line and falling in love with the vineyards of Bordeaux, France, he came home to plant and cultivate a plot of vines he’d purchased with his father in 2002. He partnered with two other investors and winemaking moved from being a hobby to a viable lifestyle. His passion for making wine and having a successful winery was evident. Currently, Whirlwind Winery has approximately 3200 vines  across three vineyards. 

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Next, we tasted Honey Apple, a semi-dry mead, paired with an Oklahoma Italian cheese-maker, Lovera’s Smoked Cow Cheese. The smokiness of the cheese paired deliciously with the sweetness of the apple. Whirlwind acquires honey from a variety of sources to make this flavorful mead. This was my first mead wine and it was definitely sweet.

sand plums via pinterest

Wild Sand Plum with Oklahoma “Gruyère” was the third pairing. Wild sand plums are native to Oklahoma and grow like weeds. In fact, I have one in the field behind my house that my kids like to pick. Brad said his aim was to make an “all Oklahoma wine.” This is the only sand plum fruit wine in the world. It was paired with a funky, pungent, rough “gruyère” made by Wagon Creek Creamery  out of Helena, OK. Brad called it a “crazy pairing” and heartily encouraged us to try it. The cheese was rough but paired with the wild plum’s supple sweet taste the flavors melded into a creamy treat. It’s a classic example of how wine and food can compliment and work very well together! 

As Brad poured the next pairing, he lamented he’d hoped to make dry reds when he opened the winery in 2005. But Oklahomans have sweeter tastes so the winery focused on more sweet offerings. However, he does make two really nice reds. The first one was a dry red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot named Stiletto. Dark red but bright in the glass, it was earthy, rustic tart cherries, vanilla and nice tannin. I asked him about learning to make wine and he laughed. Making wine is super easy. It’s really hard making good wine.” Stiletto is a good start!

The second wine was Sojourn Red Blend 2012, a bright, dry, medium bodied wine with berries and cocoa.  img_8747

At this point a group of ten had shown up for a tasting way earlier than their reservation time. At larger wineries this might not be a problem but Brad was a one man show that day. He warned us it was about to get a little crazy. I think he was trying to tell us we might feel neglected for a short time. No problem. As Brad got them settled, the first glass poured and was talking them through the first pairing, we relaxed, peeked at the current fermenting wines, and took a second listen to the winery history. img_8702

To keep us busy, as he hustled to set up more chairs, he’d given us a huge bowl of dark chocolate made by Bedré Chocolates of Oklahoma and the instructions to eat it with the Sojourn. Wow. Chocolate and wine are truly a marriage made in heaven. Note to all chocolate lovers – Brad believes in generous portions! As we wrapped up the afternoon, Brad snapped this picture. Good times! 

Selfies w the Winemaker

Selfies w the Winemaker

Whirlwind Winery offers wine tastings Fridays and Saturdays 12-6 pm. If you find yourself driving through the plains of Western Oklahoma, I encourage you to stop by and try the Wild Sand Plum. You’ll be tasting a bit of Oklahoma and you’ll most likely get to hangout with Brad. Trust me, he’s a funny guy and he has wine!

~ Allison

p.s. If you do go, let me know! I need to go back cause my bottle of Sojourn 2012 is already empty! 

 

God, Guns and Sweet Wine

Plains of Oklahoma

Plains of Oklahoma

 

As far as landscape goes, there is little to commend our state except gloriously painted sunrises and sunsets. I’m not purposefully trying to malign the place I live; I’m just stating a fact. No sandy shorelines form the boundaries, or rugged mountain ranges or seventh wonders of the world. Just miles and miles of rolling grassy plains, scrubby treed hills, and ruddy colored lakes make up our buckle of the Bible belt.

However, there are a few endearing characteristics that set us apart from other parts of the world. One is a strong faith that no amount of tornadoes, terrorists, and economic tumbles appears to shake.

Another is despite our lack of jaw-dropping topography, Oklahomans are genuinely an outdoor loving group who hunt (hence the guns), fish, boat (strangely enough, we can boast of more shoreline than New Jersey) and golf. The semi-treeless landscape is perfect for raising golf champs and we have several.

However, there is one unique characteristic that recently had me cringing for a moment. Oklahomans love sweet wine. Love it. A majority of Oklahoma produced wine is sweet and everyone from wine tasting hosts to clerks at Farmers Markets to liquor stores have mentioned the affinity. Maybe it’s a quasi-Southern thing like drinking sweet tea. Or it’s probably just the fact wine making in Oklahoma is tough with the long hot summers and brick clay soil. Sweet wine sells well and even better if it’s peach flavored and named ‘Delightfully Delicious’ and all of the local wineries pour their own fuzzy versions. Personally, I’m not fond of the stuff and  often skip any free samples.

Last year, we took a vineyard tour with a winemaker in southern Oklahoma who let slip that when he had a batch of wine refusing to become a characteristic merlot, it was no big deal, he just added sugar and made sweet wine. Guaranteed seller. He currently makes Chocolate Drop, Strawberry Road and you guessed it, a good ol’ peach, Noble Blush as his sweet wine contributions. In his defense, his Cabernet isn’t too flabby either.

Over the weekend, my husband and I visited one of our local wineries and experienced once again the sweet wine dominance of the Oklahoma wine scene. The winery was Put A Cork In It  which is located in Bricktown on the river canal. For those not familiar with downtown Oklahoma City, a river walk runs from the ballpark to the home of Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Restaurants, theatres, shopping, art and canal rides take up the space in-between. Interestingly enough, Put A Cork In It sources all their grapes from California, Washington, and Chile so I thought there would be more of a balance in the wine offerings. We ordered the Souvenir Glass/Wine tasting which included all their wines and started with Ikana Riesling, (Ikana is Choctaw for friend.) We quickly moved onto Dustbowl Chardonnay, Skirt Alert Sauvignon BlancIndian Paintbrush Merlot and Thunderhead Cabernet Sauvignon.  Can you guess the theme?

Then we got to down to business with the 6 sweet wine offerings. As the hostess poured, she said unprompted, ‘Oklahomans love sweet wine’. The mantra was repeated like an apology and I started feeling bad about our apparent simple tastes. As we sampled Scissortail Moscato  to  Skinny Dip and then Delightfully Delicious Peach Chardonnay, my spirits sunk lower.  A second hostess reminded us ‘Oklahomans love sweet wine’ as she poured Rose Rock, a white Merlot and then Red Dirt Road, a wild berry Shiraz. Maybe she thought we were tourists? The last one was Sweet Crude, a blackberry Cabernet that was reminiscent of Marilla Cuthbert’s Blackberry Cordial. You know, the infamous cordial that nearly ended Anne of Green Gables ‘bosom friendship’ with Diana Barry after Diana went home drunk from the tea party. Just good clean fun. My Grandma Sue used to drive from their dry county over the state line for raspberry cordial. Apparently fruit cordials are popular among Southern ladies. It’s more refined for ladies in the south to get tipsy on cordials than moonshine or bourbon, I suppose. Honestly, I thought the Sweet Crude was good and I’m tempted to try it again.

Well, I left the winery feeling somewhat low about my State’s wine tastes. The longer I mulled over my low opinion, the more ashamed I felt for judging them so harshly. See, I realized the affinity for sweet wine is actually just a reflection of the nature of Oklahomans. That nature is  one of several reasons I love living here. Oklahomans tend to be genuine, kind, and easy-going. They’re quick to forgive and swift to lend a hand. They like life with a touch of sweet.

The winemaker expressed Oklahoma’s attitude the best. “It’s no big deal. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just add sugar and make sweet wine. Life’s still good.”

Cheers to the good life!

 

Rediscovered Wine History & A Really Great Deal

Sometimes, low-risk opportunities turn into invaluable discoveries…

A while back, while scrolling through my emails, I clicked on the latest groupon. It was for a winery tour and tasting at a local vineyard. $15 for two. Tour, wine, food, glasses. $15. My skeptical mind doubted it would be worth it. The hope-fulled, adventurer in me said it was a low-risk opportunity, so I jumped on it. The deal was for Canadian River Vineyards and Winery in Lexington, Oklahoma.

Canadian River Vineyard and Winery

Canadian River Vineyard and Winery

 

The plan was to go in the spring when the weather was pleasant. However, we’d also been praying for desperately needed rain. And God graciously answered. It rained and rained and rained until the second week of July, breaking a 100 year old record. Most winery and vineyard tours aren’t the best during torrential downpours so the visit was postponed.

The heavens cleared and on a warm Saturday morning, we headed out to experience Oklahoma viticulture.

As the car turned on to Slaughterville Rd., a lush field of vines filled the horizon.

Bushy, beautiful vines!

Bushy, beautiful vines!

 

Canadian River Vineyard and Winery is a little slice of wine country in Oklahoma. The owner and winemaker, Gene, gave us the tour while we sampled his Chardonnay. It was a refreshing lifeline in the early July heat and humidity.

Bushy, grape-filled Vines.

More bushy, grape-filled Vines.

 

 

Gene is really affable and made us feel welcome immediately. He lead us into the sangiovese vines and jumped right into the realities of growing grapes in Oklahoma. It was apparent Gene found having a vineyard in this area a worthwhile pursuit by the way he talked about terrior. Shaded by lush canopy, the grapes were lovely with just a touch of black rot. The abundant rain had made it hard to keep the canopy from getting bushy.

 

 

We moved inside to the production barn and on through to the crushpad. Gene explained that the grapes are harvested in August and placed in a freezer to cool overnight. The temperatures on August nights in Oklahoma can hover around 90 degrees. The freezer brings the grapes down to a comfortable pressing temperature.

Tiny Crushpad . . . Big wine.

Crushpad pathway for hot wines!

 

Gene shared lots of stories as he took us around. Upon graduation from Napa Valley College, he’d wanted to start a vineyard but buying land was costly so he came to Oklahoma. Gene’s son was the winemaker in the beginning. Now his son works as a winemaker for a Napa winery.

Going from red grape press to white grape press, Gene mentioned that Oklahoma had been the fourth largest grape producer (table and wine) in the US in the 1800s until the early 20th century.

 

Say what!?!  The heartland was once wine country? Be still my wine-enthusiast heart.

 

I actually did a little research about that comment. An article (click here) published by a professor at Oklahoma State (The rival university. I’m a Sooner. I let that go for the sake of the grapes) confirmed Oklahoma’s prominent grape history. Delaware, Concord and Catawba grapes were grown. Some native vines were instrumental in creating high-quality French-American hybrids. (Oh-la-la, OUi OUi. Sooner Pride showing) Then 1917 and prohibition. And the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Not to mention, Oklahoma was a dry state till 1959. Ouch, Oklahoma was hit hard. Good-bye grapes.

Back on the tour . . . our last stop was the tasting room.

Veranda to Tasting Room

Veranda to Tasting Room

The winery had been quiet on our arrival but now the veranda was filled with weekenders. Being the first sunny Saturday in a long time, everyone wanted to be outside. That left us inside where we got to chat more with the winemaker. (And taste his delicious wine.)

The hostess, who happens to be the long-time next door neighbor and extremely knowledgeable about the wines, had prepared a wine and food pairing for us. (Her backyard gate opens into the vineyard. Oh to dream . . . )

  • Sauvignon Blanc was crisp citrus paired with cherry tomatoes and basil. Best idea ever.
  • Merlot  paired with olives and pepperoni. The bottle we brought home didn’t last the weekend.
  • Muscat Canelli with creme cheese and pepper jam. Delicious.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon with pepperoni, olives and hard onion cheese.  The cabernet was our favorite but sadly it was currently sold out.

 

Quick!Take the pic. . . the bottle's almost empty!

Quick!Take the pic. . . the bottle’s almost empty!

Gene told us the new Cabernet was ready to be bottled but there’s a cork shortage. The corks were still sitting on ships in port due to a “slow down”. With orders to be filled and eager wine-drinkers (me) wanting bottles, I offered him my collection of 200 hundred or so corks to get things moving along. Shockingly, he laughed and declined.

On a side note, I’d read about this vineyard in the  book American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States by Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy (Click here to order). I’d thought it might be a good idea to visit someday. Especially since it was in a current book by a wine expert. It’s now “a go as often as possible” for me.

Movies at a vineyard: Better than the Drive-In

Movies at a vineyard: Better than the Drive-In

Canadian River Vineyard is a gem in the heartland. There’s lots of weekly family-friendly activities and events. Movies in the vineyard till the late autumn. Happy hour with yard games on Friday and Saturday evenings. In fact, there’s even a Grape Stomp festival in the fall!

Movies at a vineyard: Better than a Drive-In

Movies at a vineyard: Better than a Drive-In

I’m already planning the next visit . . . with or without Cabernet.

Reveling in grape history,

~Rose

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