WINE Business Maturing in Oklahoma

Tuesday, August 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(OKLAHOMA CITY) - Oklahoma's fledgling wine industry - with offerings such as Dust Bowl Red, Oklahoma Gold and Oklahoma Nouveau - is starting to grow.

Voters approved a law last November allowing wineries to sell directly to liquor stores and restaurants without having to go through a wholesaler.

This has led to new interest in the industry, said Tommy Marvell, assistant director of the Oklahoma Alcohol Beverage Law Enforcement Commission. There were only two commercially licensed wineries in the state last year, compared to 10 this year.

``This is something new for the entire state,'' he said. ``This should be economically beneficial for the state over the long run.''

Surrounding states are ahead of Oklahoma when it comes to wineries.

The Wine Tours Project lists 33 wineries for Texas, 31 in Missouri, 18 wineries in Colorado and 16 in New Mexico.

Stone Bluff Cellars Winery near Tulsa is reaping benefits from the new law.

The winery produced 600 cases of wine last year, it's first year in operation. Most of the wine was sold to people who visited the winery. This year, it plans to produce 1,500 cases and will sell to restaurants and liquor stores throughout the state.

``There is more demand for the product,'' said Brendan McBratney, general manger of Stone Bluff Cellars Winery. ``We have almost sold out of everything.''

With five acres devoted to grapes, the winery purchases grapes and juice to supplement what it grows.

``We do the mixing, taste trials, all the chemistry involved, the bottling and labeling here,'' McBratney said.

He said the winery has won awards at the Los Angeles County Fair Wines of the American and at the Taster Guild International held in Maryland.

Slaughterville-based Canadian River Vineyards and Winery, which opened in May, planted its grapes just a few years ago.

``It is amazing to me to put a stick in the ground and three years later, you have a bottle of wine,'' said Gene Clifton, one of the three owners of the winery.

The winery will harvest two tons of white grapes, which will produce 150 gallons of wine, or 750 bottles, that will be ready to drink in October.

The Robert Bartunek Winery in Enid has been in business since 1993.

``This is a huge experimental phase for the wine business in Oklahoma,'' Bartunek said. ``The biggest problem in Oklahoma is that people drink beer, not wine.''