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